Category Archives: Memoirs

Red Schwinn

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I opened the door to the storage shed, grabbed the handle bars, and started to wheel my unscathed red Schwinn bike backwards. The left training wheel caught on the edge of the door way. I kicked it with the toe of my white converse tennis shoes. “Stupid training wheels.” I readjusted the bike and backed it into the yard.  I got on and started pedaling, my feet barely touching the pedals. Occasionally one of the training wheels would graze the ground.

I had permission to ride the bike up and down the dirt ally behind our house and no further.  The turn around at the end of the alley was tight. On the right stood the wall of a storage shed and on the left a fence that surrounded a dog kennel. As I made the tight turn, the bike wobbled, training wheels touched down lightly. I pedaled home, took a sweeping turn in the bumpy yard and headed back down the alley. I enjoyed riding.  

I know I asked my dad a number of times to remove the training wheels. The answer was repeatedly, “Not yet.” He didn’t think I was ready to ride my bike without them, but I knew I was. I couldn’t wait to have them off. I hated them. I didn’t want them. They looked stupid.  I didn’t even like the name training wheels. It reminded me of toilet training, something I had mastered years ago and I wasn’t a baby anymore. I was ready to be a big kid, to ride a real bike.

Finally, my dad consented or I may have annoyed him enough to take them off, but the training wheels were off. I was happy, excited. I couldn’t wait to ride. I got on my bike, started to peddle. I was focused, mouth open, tongue hanging out.  I started a wide loop of the yard. See, I could ride. I was a big boy.  I fell, but I didn’t care. I got up, started off. The bike shimmied. I was riding with no training wheels. 

I approached the end of the alley.  Started my turn, got three quarters of the way around, the bike reached for the training wheel, it was not there. I fell hard.

For some reason, my bike did not want to make that tight turn and on the fourth or fifth time of the bike throwing me off I lashed out. I started kicking the bike tire as hard as it could with the soul of my white converse tennis. With each kick, I repeated, “Stupid bike!” The bike rattled in protest to the beating. I hated that bike. I picked it up. Pushed it for several feet and hopped on. Shakily I rode home and put it into the storage shed. I was done.

I stomped into the house. My dad must have seen the expression on my face. With a smile he asked, “You want me to put the training wheels back on?” 

“NO,” I shouted. I plopped on the couch and turned on the tv. I don’t know how long I sat there, but it was not long. I got up, walked outside, got on my bike and tried again.

 

 

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Mrs. Alligator

My brother opened the back door, yelled “Bye mom”. I followed. As he walked the half block towards school, I followed three steps behind. Other kids were walking in the same direction, some road by on bikes. A bus drove by.

When we arrived at the building, my brother pointed. “In there.” I had never been anywhere without my brother and must have asked if he was coming in. He pointed and said, “No, I go over there.” I paused, looked at him with large brown eyes. You mean he wasn’t coming in with me? I was on my own? He was entering second grade and I was starting my first day of kindergarten.

I walked slowly, hesitatingly into the open door. It was a big room, everything looked clean, freshly washed, ready. My eyes danced around the room taking in the rows of desks, the polished floor, a row of strange symbols taped above the chalk board.

Teacher smiled and greeted each new face as it came through the door. Who were all these kids? I didn’t know any of them. Some kids were loud, noisy. I stood quietly, shyly, not wanting to be noticed.

I found myself seated in a desk. Teacher stood in front of the room. She must have been nice. I don’t remember ever thinking she was mean or scary. Teacher started talking. I was preoccupied with looking around at everyone, observing, watching, my stomach didn’t feel right. Teacher told us her name. I remember thinking it was an odd name.

At supper that evening the family sat around the round kitchen table. My feet swung back and forth under my chair. I would guess we had hotdogs and baked beans. Mom or was it dad asked me how school was. I said it was ok. “And what is your teacher’s name?”

“Alligator,” I said proudly.

Both my brothers laughed. “Her name isn’t alligator. Stupid.”

“Yes it is,” I insisted. “That’s what she said.”

My dad looked at my mom quizzically. “Delamater,” she stated quietly.

“See,” I said righteously. “Alligator.”

I think we all have experienced instances where what we heard is not what is claimed to have been said. I’ve even had arguments about it. One day a friend of mine barked at me, “You aren’t listening.” I attested that I was listening and even summarized what he had just said. He glared at me and stated, “You may have heard, but you weren’t listening.”

His retort left an impression and several weeks later, I finally understood what he meant.
The sounds he had emitted had reverberated against my ear drums and triggered recognition in my brain, but I had not really listened to what he said. I had heard his words, but had interpreted them to mean something other that what he meant. I hadn’t paid attention to what he was trying to tell me, what he wanted me to understand. I hadn’t really listened. It was an important lesson for me.

‘Thithes’

I think I was four. I know that I wasn’t in school yet and that my older brother by two years was. I was at home playing on the sidewalk outside the back door. The door propped open so that the fresh warm air of late spring could creep into the house to replace the stuffiness of winter. The lawn was comprised of patches of dirt and areas of brown and new green grass. Occasionally I inhaled the scent of decay, some areas of the yard still recovering from being buried all winter. Yes, spring comes late in Upper Michigan.

At the edge of the yard my dad’s recently completed project, a new clothesline, stood. Practical dad had used the trunks of white cedar for the poles. He had removed the branches, leaving stubby knobs as reminders of where a branch once held. The barkless trunks exhaled the subtle fragrance of cedar. Mom would be happy be able to hang clothes outside to dry rather than in the basement.

As I played with my older brother’s wood blocks, I could hear the ring of the school’s bell and the screams and happiness of kids on the playground. I remember the square wood blocks. They had raised edges and letters that were painted in red, blue, and yellow. I was stacking the blocks, creatively making different arrangements and then toppling them. My younger brother must have been present. I member a pair of white Converse covered feet in the periphery of my vision.

The stacking game became dull and I looked for something new. My dad must have left some of his tools inside the back door as somehow a hammer found its way into my hand.
I tested the functionality of the hammer. I raised it and brought the heavy metal head down. There was a solid thud and a short puff of cement dust. It felt good. An idea popped into my head. I grabbed one of my brother’s blocks, aimed the hammer and let it strike. I missed. I tried again. This time I caught an edge and the block scooted away. I got frustrated, but am persistent and wasn’t about to give up. I focused. The hammer went up and came down. It hit the hollow block. The block shattered, flattened. I smiled. I felt a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment.

My younger brother knowingly stated. “You’re gonna be in trouble.”

Defiantly I replied, “No I’m not. I didn’t do notin.” I took another block. Missed. Focused. Sweet, sweet success. Eventually a third block and then a forth lay shattered before me.

Before I could victimize another block, I heard my older brother’s voice, “What are you doin? Those are mine!”

Survival instincts kicked in. I didn’t look. I bolted towards the edge of the yard. Foolishly, I raced towards the cedar clothesline pole. As I reached the pole, hands grabbed the back of my head, pulled it back and thrust it forward. My forehead met the edge of a knot. Skin split. Blood – lots of it. I started to wail.

My mother came out from the kitchen. She bellowed, “What are you boys doing now?”

I cried. “Nothin, I didn’t do nothin.”

The next thing I remember is standing on the backseat of a neighbor’s car with a once white towel tightly clasped to my forehead. Years later I learned that my mother had had to scramble to find a car to drive to the doctor’s office. As we pulled out of the yard, I felt the car shutter and jolt, gears grinding. My mother turned, “Don’t you get any blood on the seats!” I held the bath towel more securely to my forehead.

At the doctor’s, I ran to the door, opened it. The nurse at the counter looked up. She saw my mother behind me and came rushing out to catch her before she hit the floor. The nurse led my mom to a chair, made her sit and then put her head between her knees. I got scared. “What’s wrong with mom?” I wanted to show her that I was ok. I started running back and forth across the waiting room, towel clutched to my head saying, “Thee mom. I’m ok. Thee?” The handful of waiting patients took it all in.

In the doctor’s office I sat on the edge of a table. The heels of my shoes bounced off the sides. My mom and a nurse talked quietly. The doctor came in, looked under the towel. “Yep, need some stitches. Five should do it.”

My feet swung faster. My brain pondered, “Stitches? What are stitches?”

The doctor pulled out a needle and some thread. He looked at me. “This might hurt a little.” He asked me some questions. I answered. I felt a pulling sensation in my forehead. “Ok all done.”

“Done?”

“Yes. All done” The doctor turned to talk to my mom. I hopped down from the table and walked out into the waiting room. I walked up to my brothers, stated proudly, “Thee. I got five thithes.” I couldn’t wait for dad to get home.