Jack’s Mid-Missouri Memories: Poll Hall Memories
People ask me how I can remember all the things I write about that happened so long ago, and I have to admit, I get a lot of help from old friends. For instance. Dick Prisendorf, a childhood friend of mine came up with a memory we share one day. The memory was about the old Play-more pool hall, a place that played a large part in both our childhoods.
Poll Hall Memories
If you were a boy who grew up in the '40sand '50s, lived in Sedalia Missouri and loved to play the game of pool, you most likely knew about Jim Galloway and the Play-more pool hall. Playing pool at Jim’s was a right of passage for me and a lot of the boys I grew up with in those days; not into manhood maybe, but at the least onto a higher plateau of boyhood. I learned to play snooker and 8-ball at Jim’s, standing on a box when I was still too small to reach the top of the pool table.
Some people may think that was a waste of my childhood, but I actually learned a lot of things in that pool hall. Some were even moral lessons, taught by men who had traveled the wrong road themselves and felt the need to give a little guidance to a young boy just starting down the path of life. One lesson I learned there the hard way was don’t bet with a man who carries his own cue stick.
The Play-More pool hall was located on West Main Street in Sedalia during the '40s and '50s, and it was the stereotypical smoke-filled room with an equally stereotypical owner named Jim Galloway. The pool hall and Jim could have been plunked down on any movie set that wished to display an authentic, smoke-filled, somewhat seedy pool emporium and its in character owner. Both would have fit perfectly. The cast of characters that frequented the Play-more to play pool or rummy were vintage movie props too, including my friends and me with our homemade shoeshine boxes, trying to make just enough money for one more game of snooker or 8-ball.
The pool hall may have looked seedy, but Jim was not the unprincipled man many parents thought he was. He even required a note from a parent before he would allow us younger kids to come in the door. My sister wrote mine when mom refused, and my friends got theirs in other underhanded ways. I can't remember what I used to bribe sis back then, but it was probably a month of dish washing or some other household chores. Mom did eventually find out about the counterfeit note, and it took a lot of begging on my part to keep her from calling Jim to revoke my pool playing privileges. It probably took a lot more dishes too.
The '40s and '50s were still in the era of the traveling pool hustler (we called them pool sharks). The Play-more saw its share of those Minnesota Fats wannabes. It was said that Jim Galloway was a very good pool player when he was young and could usually take care of the hustlers that showed up to find a game, but by the time I knew him, the skill of the cue stick had nearly abandoned him. There was, however, a young pool player back then who though only a few years older than Dick and I, was already the man in Sedalia when it came to playing pool. His name was Paul Johnson, and he could do things on a pool table the rest of us could only dream of doing. Few men in Sedalia were foolhardy enough to challenge Paul, so most of the time he could be seen running the balls off the table all by himself. A loose Partnership formed between Jim Galloway and Paul Johnson; one had the money, and one had the skill. So it was that when a pool shark came to town to take advantage of the small-town hicks of Sedalia, Mo., Jim would call on Paul, who more often than not sent the sharks away with less money than they came to town with.
The Play-more pool hall has been gone for a lot of years, as has its owner, Jim Galloway. I had not thought of either of them for years until a conversation with Dick Prisendorf. I guess that’s because it has been a lot of years since I held a cue stick in my hand. I doubt that I could stand at a pool table very long without Paul, Jim, and that smokey old pool hall popping into my head.
Update: I do have to add a sad post script to this story, as Paul Johnson has now passed away too. I did get a chance to talk to him after I wrote this Mid-Missouri Memory, and I was glad to see he was still the same as when we were kids. I think he was surprised that the little kid who used to watch him sink ball after ball on a pool table all those years ago still remembered him. I didn't say it at the time, but maybe I should have; because to me and the other kids who watched him all those years ago, he was simply the best and we could never forget him.