The bicycle was a gift. It, like me, had a few miles under the hood. I was looking to lessen the strain running everyday was putting on my legs. My brother spotted the bike in a throw-away pile in a neighbor’s front yard. It was two old retreads each seeking a new perspective on life.
I eyed that thing nervously. What’s the old saying, You never forget how to ride a bicycle…… Maybe I hadn’t forgotten. But I couldn’t recall the last time I’d straddled one in earnest. It had been close to half a century ago for sure. As I gingerly reached a foot down to the pedal it crossed my mind that regardless of axioms, truisms and old sayings, a man can forget a lot of things in fifty years!
The fall as a child was more embarrassing than hurtful. Learning to ride had been an adventure in itself. I was way past the embarrassment stage. I didn’t want to break my fool neck! Adventure for me these days is watching “Rawhide” on the Western Channel.
I didn’t make any turns on that first ride. And your Aunt Matilda’s one legged sister could have beaten me to town by a country mile. But speed wasn’t my goal here. When I got just about out of sight of the house I rolled to a complete stop, got off and turned the bike around, and then pushed off carefully in a straight line back toward the house. I wanted desperately to wave to a couple of passing friends but I couldn’t get either hand off of the handlebars.
A man has got to know his limitations.
Life takes the most wonderful turns when you least expect it. Within a week I was cruising with, if not complete confidence, a feel that allowed me to at least get one hand up to wave howdy to a neighbor. I enjoyed the wind in my face, the hum of the tires against the pavement and the extra flow of blood fairly leaping through my veins.
The magic crept upon me from out of nowhere. I was riding down Garrison Avenue in Port St. Joe, but suddenly I saw Terry Kennon on his front steps. Billy Webb, one house over, was playing pitch with Karen. The Twin Pools had a fair weekday crowd and Mr. Pete Joyner backed his electrician truck right out in front of me. I blinked hard and there was Richard Gregg waving to me and a yard down Phil Chandler was climbing a tree. Paula Pinson was chasing Darrell around the corner of their house and Paul David Campbell had a basketball game going at the far end of his driveway. Jim and Joe Williams were fighting over something and Anne Alexander was getting in the car with her parents……. Folks, my bike had turned down Stonewall Street in McKenzie, Tennessee!
I had ridden into the Twilight Zone! As Bobby Ridley gave me a grin and the big wave, like he had done a thousand times when I sped by his house as a child, I thought, “Jules Verne has already written this story”!
I pedaled faster in hopes the little town I remembered so well wouldn’t disappear before I could get there. I slowed in front of the City Café and automatically checked my pockets. I couldn’t find the needed quarter for a hamburger. This WAS just like old times! The Ben Franklin Store was in its customary spot, cattycornered across from the National Shirt Shop. I passed Motheral’s Drugstore, Howard Freeman’s Men’s Store, the Western Auto, U’tot’em Groceries and paused in front of the Park Theatre. I remember when Rhett and Scarlett dated on that big screen. I saw Tarzan whip alligators and call elephants in the darkness of that wonderful place.
I had ridden into my past!
I turned right, and coasted by the post office and Dr. Holmes’ little clinic where I (and most everyone else) was born. I would have stopped at Bill Argo’s Gulf Station but I didn’t have time for a weather report or the weekly debate on whether a John Deere could out pull an International Harvester. Calvin Purvis waved to me from the back of the garbage truck. I circled the town square slowly, absorbing the wonderful sights and sounds of a place that I had once taken for granted.
I wheeled back to my house…..and the present. David wasn’t getting this bicycle back! I remembered how our old Western Flyers gave us so much freedom. We could be anywhere in town in eight minutes. This “new” bike could do it even faster! I found a 1954 Ted Williams baseball card and “clothespinned” it to the rear spokes. I was going back with a motor sound to spur me on. And I slipped my old Spalding “Form Pocket” Frank Bolling autographed glove over the handlebar. Next time I’m pedaling over to that empty lot between Ricky Hale and the Mabry house. You can’t never tell when a game might break out!
If you see me on that bike in Port St. Joe, proceed with caution. I may not be there. If you see me riding in McKenzie, get your ball and bat and hustle over to Forrest Avenue…….