It was 1952, the year that Gary Cooper took back Hadleyville and left his badge in the dirt as he left town in High Noon. The theme song, Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’, became a top ten hit, a foreshadow of things to come. In Washington, Senator Joseph McCarthy continued his crusade against the commies as a wave of anti-communist paranoia swept the country. Rock’n’Roll hadn’t been invented yet, and the New York Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, four games to three. I was ten years old, and the signs were everywhere.
The year started out ok from my perspective. I knew there was a lot going on above me in the strange world of tall people, but I was somehow able to fly below the radar, just out of shootin’ range. I was doing well in school, pulling down straight A’s. It helped that I had the one great teacher I would encounter during my long slog through grade school, Sister Marie Frances. She was so tiny her feet didn’t reach the floor when she sat at her desk, but she was larger than life; bubbling over with energy and enthusiasm, and perhaps the greatest single factor in my later decision to become an artist. By the end of the school year, I was convinced I was the next Michelangelo.
I was also lovesick as a puppy over Mary Lane, a fetching blond who was practically the girl next door, and who, with her friends, would join us in nightly ‘make out’ parties on her front porch, where we polished up our kissing technique in games of Post Office and Spin the Bottle. What was great about it, aside from the journey into outer space, was the fact that you would get instant group critiques: whispering and laughter from the opposing team after a particularly sloppy or overly long effort, failure to breathe properly, liplock – that sort of thing. Humbling, but extremely helpful in later life.
Where was I? Oh, yeah, I was leading up to telling you about my bike; my closest friend, my trusted steed, my ticket to ride, my instant escape from all troubles. It was my way to reach the sky by flying down the yellow brick road at forty miles an hour, it was the rush of a bone-crushing ride down the capital steps at full speed, it was a bombing run down Mapleridge Avenue and a terror-filled flight through the woods. It was a way into big trouble, but it was also a lightning-fast escape. Out West, I hear, they hang men for even thinking of messing with another man’s bike. As I would soon learn, however, it didn’t amount to a hill of beans back East.
To be continued…