Time Keeps On Ticking…
The summer of 1962, August 13th a day that haunts me still. That morning was bright and windless with a solid blue canopy over all who breathed, animals, insects, flowers, and naturally, us humans. I pedaled and coasted my bike down the east-west street to where it ended into a busy north-south 4 lane avenue; Tom’s house was just across that avenue.
Though Mom had always told me to go the extra half-block to the corner street lights and cross with the green light, I never did. I waited patiently for the cars to pass, sometimes, but mostly I just waited for an opening where I was sure I was fast enough to make it to the other side and I shot across on my motorcycle bike that grandpa had bought for me.
Grandpa was a WWI veteran that saw most of his service years in France. He even gave the eldest of two daughters a French name, Mireille, perhaps from a girlfriend there, that’s what Mom, the youngest of the two girls, said. I had a “tin” picture of him in his uniform looking young and debonair. I used to carry it with me all the time, come to think of it, I don’t think I was supposed to have that ancient photo. I was still a boy (in grade school) when it mysteriously vanished. The picture of that dapper kid (my grandpa) had been permanently photographed in my mind’s eye, but now; I am the only one who can see it .
Thank goodness for Grandpa because he thought that every boy should have a bike. Grandpa bought and totally surprised me with a “20 bike that
looked like a motorcycle in it’s dull, dark grey finish, large comfortable black and white seat with springs that showed. While most bikes only had a crossbar that reached from the seat to the front post, this one had smooth finished tin with no sharp edges filling the space between those bars from end to end and it resembled the gas tank of a motorcycle, I loved it. This was before such a thing as Stingray’s with their high handlebars and banana seats, or at least before I’d heard of them.
I had the real thing just like the one Marlon Brando rode in the best motorcycle movie ever – “The Wild One.” I started it every morning with a short stick somewhat whittled to resemble a key. But when I turned the key nothing happened (every morning I went through this ritual) so I raised up above the seat – kicked the pedal – vroom, vrooom, vrooooom and then it just rumbled until we (bike & I) were on our way. I made the loud engine noise, and then, for added effect I took some of Mom’s clothespins and some of Dad’s playing cards and fastened them to the spokes. That way the engine would be on when I went anywhere with that precious bike.
Grandpa even took me with him to where he worked (I believe as a dishwasher) and showed me the restaurant’s parrot. I was amazed at how big those birds were and I felt big doing things with my Grandpa. He worked until he was no longer able to resist his yearnings for his birthplace. Grandma & grandpa moved back to their home state of Arkansas a while later. He was working as a cutoff man at the sawmill in the mountains of Adona, Arkansas; and he took me with him a couple of times during our summer visits to see them. Grandpa was a hard-working man, of course, he had to be to support his drinking habit he picked up while in the Army. There was never any talk of retirement and now my dad is carrying on that tradition.
All the way down the block to Tom’s I went; he and I met at school in the second grade and we hit it off. We rode bikes together, his dad took us camping one time – the only time I had ever done that. We camped for hours in Tom’s backyard. However, it was a long backyard with a tent and rocks surrounding where the campfire would be, as Tom’s dad put hotdogs and later marshmallows on sticks for us; and to this day I remember how I savored the crunchy, juiciest meal ever, oh so good!
Dad preferred to sit and play gin in a dimly lit, smoke filled bar (even though he did not drink) he played for hours. And, I don’t think there was another in the world that knew a craps table as well as Dad. He knew the odds on everything and so I grew up thinking that I would be the best gambler ever. I had Dad’s wisdom on what to do and what not to do. “Never drink when you’re gambling, never chase your money, and only play with what you have. Don’t bring a girl to the game because that will distract you. Just don’t gamble, period!”
Dad never enjoyed camping and so neither did I, “It’s great if you like it,” he used to say. Well I learned early on that I didn’t like it. Though, camping at Tom’s in his backyard was great because I could back home in a few hours. Dad never talked down about it, he just said that he didn’t care for it and so I grew up trying to impress him with my gambling abilities, though, they were never up to par with his skills and so cost me much.
My cousin, Carl, used to say this about fishing…”Ahh, those guys are nuts. They sit in a boat all day, drop their line in the water and out of a million gallons they hope to get a bite! Na, I’ll go to the market to get my fish.” Obviously another gambler in our family. None of them were what you would call – family men – they (Dad included) never seemed to enjoy time with their families, but instead, always had to go somewhere. I don’t know, maybe that was the reason for wanting to be around my dad so much and the reason I considered him great because time with him was so limited.
On the 13th and I don’t remember if it was Friday the 13th Tom gave me a golf club from his Dad’s bag; his dad was at work. He asked if I wanted to go over to Hazel Park School and hit the golf ball around? I thought that was a great idea so he went inside to tell his ma where we were going though he didn’t say a thing about taking the golf club and balls; he had to be back home in two hours and Tom of course, had a watch. We were off… Tom held the club across the handlebars of his bike and I carried the 1/2 dozen golf balls in my pockets.
Hazel Park was the big school we would be going to after Hayden Heights. “You ever been over there Tom? I’ve been by there a few times because me and Wayne built a raft on the pond at the other side of the tracks.” Railroad tracks ran behind the school and we didn’t ride that far, only to the large vacant and open field passed the ball fields and then we stopped just behind the last one – far from the school.
“You ever been golfing,” Tom asked me because he wanted to be the guy in the know on this venture. Even though he was that guy on nearly everything. I just didn’t have experience with family things even though Dad always preached closeness, we weren’t. Could Dad really expect it when he was never home?