MY FIRST BIKE
When I was eleven, the big old world beckoned me to come explore. And every week when I walked past the windows of Western Auto, I would drool over the really cool bicycle they had on display. It was shiny and bright red. From time to time, I’d go in and ask if it were lower in price than before. The salesman would say no with a sad smile.
I’d saved a little money from birthdays and such, and from a few odd jobs I’d done for neighbors. The amount I had was way short of the price of that bike. So I moped around for weeks, wondering how I would ever get enough money to buy the bike. Thirty dollars seemed unattainable.
Dad was still overseas in the Army and Mom had barely enough money to take care of her three kids. Nobody else in the family had any extra either, so I moped and walked everywhere while my friends all rode their new bikes. That big old world was beginning to look pretty grim.
My grandma Goggin, whom we called Maw, waited tables in the local café across from the courthouse. One day I dropped in to say hi, secretly hoping she would slip me a stale piece of pie. Don’t you think it’s neat how grandmas always worry about whether their grandkids are hungry? Anyway, I saw this cool punchboard on the counter. Maw told me she didn’t want me gambling with that or anything else so I said nothing to her.
The punchboard had a lot of little white spots on it. When you paid your quarter, you took a little key and punched through one of the spots, pushing a folded piece of paper out the back. The paper had markings on it and you matched them to the pictures on the front of the board. I had a quarter in my pocket and waited my chance, which came when Maw had to go up the street to the grocery store to get something for the café.
As soon as she left, I told Lilah, the other waitress, I wanted to play the punchboard. Lilah liked me a lot, I think. She hugged me a lot and that made me pretty nervous, except she was really pretty and curvy, and always smelled wonderful. She hugged me and shook her head because she knew Maw would be angry. Well, I sweet talked her into letting me give it a try. Funny how you can sweet talk a woman when you’re just a kid.
I handed her my quarter and she gave me the key. I think she figured I’d lose my quarter and that would be that. But the paper said I got a free punch in the special section. I punched and that one said I got another free punch in the prize section. I put the end of the key into one of the remaining spots that seemed to blink at me and closed my eyes, hoping I would win something good. I pushed it through.
The paper said I’d won the grand prize; twenty-five dollars! Lilah screamed and kissed me on the forehead just as Maw came back. She hollered, “Lilah!”
Lilah screamed, “Dale won the jackpot, Maw! This little guy just won the big prize!”
Lilah was happy. Dale was happy. Maw was not happy! “Young man, haven’t I told you not to play that evil thing?”
“Yes, ma’am. But-”
“No buts. Those things are the work of the devil!”
I looked at her with my big sad brown eyes and asked, “Do I have to find the devil and give the money back to him?”
Lilah cackled but slammed her hand over her mouth when Maw glared at her. Then Maw started laughing too and came over to give me a hug. “No, boy. I don’t want you looking for the devil. Chances are, he’ll find you soon enough as it is. Maybe already has. You can keep the money. What will you do with it?”
“I’m going to buy that big red bike at Western Auto.”
She said, “That’s pretty expensive. You have enough money?”
“Just about.” Truth was, I’d spent most of the money I’d saved since it didn’t look like I’d ever be able to buy the bike. I needed almost four dollars more but that didn’t seem so impossible now. Of course none of my family had an extra four dollars so I was still out of luck on the bike.
When Granddad Thompson invited me to come down and stay a few weeks in Glen Allen, I jumped at the chance; mainly so I would not have to walk past that Western Auto store and stare at the bike I couldn’t buy. I’d stayed at their house the summer before and most of my good friends were still down there.
During my second week in Glen Allen, I walked by the gas station and saw a sign on an old bike. FOR
After the other guys promised not to tease me, I went in and asked if I could try the bike out. I’d learned to ride on one of my friends’ bikes after it looked like I’d be the owner of the coolest bike in
Wonder of wonders, the old bike rode real easy. And it was fast. I took it around the block, throwing up dust and gravel behind me; getting the attention of one of the other guys who mocked me for riding a ‘girl’s’ bike. I challenged him and literally left him in the dust. I’d done the math and knew I had enough money to buy the old bike and maybe enough to fix it up some.
I asked the gas man how much he wanted and he said, “Fifteen dollars.”
I was in seventh heaven! Just then, Granddad came by and said he’d heard us, and the bike wasn’t worth more than ten. Mister gas man said he’d part with it for twelve. Before my granddad could mess things up any more, I hollered, “Sold!” and that was that. I had my bike and over half my money left to fix it up.
After I went back to Ironton, I bought two fenders and some shiny red paint at the Western Auto store. By the way, the fancy bike was gone so I couldn’t have bought it if I’d had the money. It was just a memory, but I had my own bike. After I painted it, it became the neatest bike in
One last bit of bad news. During the summer at my grandparents, I ran into a low branch on the small tree in front of their house while showing off and chipped one of my front teeth. That came into play years later as a contributing factor to my inability to audition as trumpeter with the U.S. Air Force Band. I was that good, and it was an audition that, with all modesty, I know I would have passed with flying colors.
Ah, well. Such is life.