Welcome to my world and beyond...

A collection of snippets of the books I write and, occasionally, my life and the things that inspire my writing...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Army Bicycle

Many years ago--well, not so many that it is in history books, and certainly within my lifetime, there was a man--a simple farmer, and his stay-at-home wife.  Their home was humble.  Maybe humble is overstating it.  Perhaps humble is a rose tinted kindness.  It was a home of monetary poverty.  The distinction being "monetary".

But, a certain richness abounded in the lives of him, his wife and their eight children.  No one was unloved and  no one went to bed hungry.

The simple farmer was my dad, and his stay at home wife--my mom.

For a time scale, it was the mid 1960s and most of the rest of the known world (all those who lived beyond the physical bounds of rough run hollow) were zooming ahead into a space-age future.  There, they had harvest gold appliances and hot and cold running water, avocado green bathtubs (what the heck was an avocado anyway?) and flush toilets inside the house.

But "down over the hill " as the closest neighbors a half mile away called it, there was gravity flow cold spring water in the kitchen, and an outhouse for a bathroom.  All eight children shared one bedroom, and none of  us knew we were "poor" until we were old enough to go to the Catholic school five miles away--and it was there that the other students informed us of our financially lacking status.

Children don't know poverty until they have things flaunted in front of them...the things that others have--and they don't.  Then that becomes their measuring stick--what people have.  Children who are blissfully unaware of such are just happy as long as they are spared cold and hunger.  We were.

The humble farmer, our dad,  also worked at a  Catholic seminary, next to the Catholic school his children attended.

Dad did things that today make me laugh, but he was just what he was.  It was not out of the ordinary for him to see a bicycle being tossed away and he would pull over and throw it in the car and haul it home for us. They rarely had pedals and never had chains, but we were tickled pink with them. We would push them up the farm line, climb on board, and then drift down the lane, feeling the breeze in our faces and the rush of excitement that only a set of wheels and fleeting independence brings.

Then one day, a very special day indeed, he arrived home with an Army bike.  Yep, really an army green bicycle purchased at an Army Surplus auction at Harrisburg that the Seminary had attended.

It was fantastic!  The day nearly mirrored Christmas! We were so excited it was all we could do to take waiting our turns. Oh! You should have seen it! My God! I can still see it...in that shade of army green.  There was never a finer or prettier bicycle made.  And had a soul said otherwise, I would surely have defended our Army bike's honor.

And besides...We had never seen a Candy-Apple green bike with a banana seat and monkey handlebars... In our lack of worldly bicycle exposure...that Army bike was neat-o!

We had to take turns, of course...and the truth of it was this: The older kids were big enough (translate--had long enough legs) to reach the pedals, but alas, we younger ones were a might too short for this big boy.  But there was a way.

In fact, there was a way to have three of us ride it at once.  One (bigger kid) stood and pedaled while another kid sat on the seat behind them--hanging on to their waist, and then one more kid on the handlebars (desperately trying to keep their feet above the front tire). It helped to have another kid give the bike a push to get it going (carrying such a load) !

I laugh just imagining how that must have looked.  And the image includes the other four children running along behind them, waiting for the wreck.
Nah, not to pick up injured siblings and dust them off, but to steal the bike and take a turn while the victims with skinned knees and elbows cried--and shouted indignities at having their bike taken!
We had that bike for several years and it toiled ceaselessly. We rode it on the lane and up and down the pasture fields, while no doubt dreaming of wondrous places and great adventures on which we were embarking.  Ahh, that such a thing could last forever...

But it was not to be.  That poor old bike paid its dues, and finally reached the point that the brakes no longer functioned. And incredibly, that coincided with the bike being capable of being pedaled backwards...oh yes!  Our green army bike now had reverse.  I didn't know how it had happened but it was way neat.  Unfortunately, along with no brakes and the arrival of reverse, our bike's pedals never ceased to turn. If the bike was moving, so were they.

Little did I know that the old green bike was giving up the ghost.  And fate had already chosen the path to its demise...or maybe it was actually my oldest  brother who had chosen the path?

In retrospect, I am positive that Evel Kneivel  was as much to blame as fate was... My brothers were suddenly enamored of the caped, flying, two-wheeled, daredevil.

It was a sunny spring day, and if I remember correctly, we were playing ball in front of the barn--it made an excellent backstop.  We had one bat and one ball--the ball was a rock wrapped in black electric tape that had been pilfered (swiped) from my dad's workshop.  It had been wrapped over and over again to make the rock a round target for the bat.  It probably would have been cheaper to buy baseballs than all that black electric tape. My oldest brother--probably fueled by a recent airing on national television of old Evel's high-flying stunts, announced that he intended to ride that green army bike down the hill above the corn crib.

Let me describe that hill. It is steep.  There was a cow path of a field lane there. Not anything that a person would even consider a road. It was only used for planting and growing season access to the lower fields--to save from driving in from above--over newly planted fields.
We begged him not to do it; older siblings who knew better warned him not to do it.  Ah...but young boys...so bulletproof...

We watched him push the bike up that hill, around rocks and a wide bend. I was standing on a huge stone that served as step up into the corn-crib, my two other brothers and my younger sister watched from nearby.  And just past me, at nearly a right angle stood my three older sisters...watching...knowing...

They shouted one more warning as he stopped and turned the bike around.  He stood beside it just for a moment--for the drama to build.

We wondered... will he do it?  Or will he chicken out?  My other two brothers, just a bit older than me and a bit younger than him, shouted encouragement...

He swung his leg up over the cross  bar, and then he was on the seat, pedaling...slowly...slowly.  Painfully slow to start, and then he got to the really steep part of the hill.  He stopped pedaling and put his feet out to the sides of the bike to clear the pedals that were spinning now with an accelerating life of their own. 

He was wearing this silly sort of wild-eyed expression that I had never before seen.  And then he seemed to be moving too fast  to avoid the rocks. He was airborne at times as he cleared them, and then he was flying off the seat.

He nearly wiped out!  And then recovered just in time, oh my! How can he hang on to the handlebars? How does he land back on the seat after flying up like that? I don't think he is going to...wow! Way too fast!! "SLOOOOOOOW DOOOOOWN!  YOU ARE GOOOOOOOOING TO WREEEEEEEECK!  Holy crap!

Then everyone shouted to every one else, "RUUUUUUUUUNNN!"

Children scattered like a flock of chickens with a dog careening into the middle of them.  We were running for our lives, trying to avoid the runaway bicycle, unsure of where it would be when the wheels stopped turning.

The next moment lives on in infamy among my siblings and me.

The bicycle that was now moving so fast we expected to hear a sonic boom, ran across some big, bumpy, rocks near the bottom.  He was airborn again, and nearly got the handlebars straigtened before landing...


Right into the big rock step in front of the corn crib!

We all ran to where he had stopped. The bike was still spinning, and my brother was laying on the ground beside it.  Major damage...irreparable damage. A trajedy. We warned him, but he wouldn't listen...and now he was paying the price. Did he get hurt??

Oh my gosh, we weren't worried about him! It was our Army bicycle that was hurt.

The frame was bent, and the rusted wheels were wobbling as they spun...twisted and bent too. <sigh>

Well...that day probably steered my brother toward being a farmer for a living, rather than a stunt cyclist. 

As for the bicycle?  Oh, I am sure that parts were salvaged for other bicycles, for the treasures my dad dragged home with him. 

As for the kids? We did what we did best. Put one foot in front of the other and kept going.  There were other bicycles, but we all recall fondly, the Army bicycle brought to us in tact--with all parts working, and we wore it out.  And we recall, still, with a pointing finger and accusatory tone-- that our oldest brother turned out to be just a farm kid with a bicycle, a steep hill, no brakes...and that he really wasn't Evel Kneivel at all.


  1. simply beautiful!!!
    and heartiest congrats to you for winning the nanowrimo as evident from the logo on your blog!! am proud of you!!

  2. Thanks, Marjaan. :-) How did you do?

    I thought it was a neat experience, helped to focus on writing. If I didn't work outside the home, I can see where it could be a catalyst for developing some very good writing habits.

    I am not sure if I will do it again, though. November is such a busy month. And I put a lot of pressure on myself to finish. I freely admit that I did not finish the novel, and had to shelve it for the time being. I really like the story, but won't get back to it until I have Aaydan's Tale edited. I am stalled with 22 pages remaining. Christmas has just completely taken a front seat to writing. Thank you so much for stopping by--and taking time to read my stuff! A big hug to you :-)

  3. It is sooo delightful for me as being still in baby shoes what the English language is concerned, to read your writings. Enjoying your thoughts immensely!! Thanks, my friend.

  4. Karin, thank you for taking the time to read this :-) I think that your command of the English language is pretty danged good! I didn't know until you stopped to visit me (here) that you had a blogger page :-) I can easily find you now! :-)

  5. Great story ... I think I grew up in the same era. I had a bycicle with one peddle, shared it with an older brother. Well written and I love your voice ... hope you never edit it away. It has a great sound. best wishes
    R. Peterson

  6. Thanks, Randall. Glad I checked back here. I left a comment a couple of evenings ago, but had to click retry a couple of times to submit it. It still must not have taken.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this. And thank you for the comment on my "voice:. You know, I was just talking to my husband about a writer's voice, and that I was afraid that in the process of learning this and learning that about writing--that I had lost my voice. We can get mighty involved with the mechanics and the nuts and bolts of a composition, and without realizing it--lose what makes our stuff so unique. :-) sometimes we just can't see the forest for the trees :-) Congrats on your letter from the publisher. Woot! That is a big deal. :-) I will stop and visit soon--to peruse your latest work :-)