Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tragedy On Two Wheels!

When I was about 10 or 11 years old, we lived in Vidalia, Louisiana.

Vidalia was a small town, maybe 4,000 or so folks, and in the late 60s and early 70s was one of those places where the kids could just wander and do what they wanted for the most part.

Big Sis has a horror story of something that happened, or almost happened to her, so she probably would disagree with my innocent, small-town assesment, but the parents at least were pretty trusting and let us do whatever back then. My memories were mostly sweetness and light.

The result was that, if we let our parents know where we would be and for how long, we were good to go. (Oh, but if we stayed longer than we said we would, or were not where we said we would be, belt-whipping city, baby.)

My best friend, Rocky, and I would ride our bikes all over that town. But right across from our neighborhood, across the main highway that went through town, was the big shopping center in town. Grocery store, dime store, OTASCO, etc.

Even back then, this shopping center had been around a while. The parking lot was getting pretty rough.

Then one day, the whole parking lot was repaved, the whole thing. Nice, jet-black asphalt. Smooth. Fresh yellow lines for parking.

It was Easter weekend, of 1973 or 1974, I can't remember which, but that Saturday before Easter, Rocky and I rode our bikes over to Calvary Baptist Church, in another part of town.

Rocky and I attended Calvary and were in the boy's group there called "Gallileans." Kinda like a boy scouts for Christian kids. We had to do service things for people and the church, so we would ride our bikes over to the church every Saturday, clean out and sweep the innards of both the church's old school buses.

The quickest way from our neighborhood to Calvary Baptist was to go across the highway and through the shopping center parking lot, now nicely re-paved, and on to the church.

We did our cleaning duty, and by the time we were on our way back that Saturday, the shopping center parking lot was filled with cars due to the stores' Easter sales.

And to top it all off, one of the radio stations from Natchez, Mississippi had a mobile unit out there too, broadcasting and trying to drum up business for the stores.

Rocky and I rode past the DJ, who saw us and called us over. He was talking to two girls who were also on their bikes, and challenged us all to a race, the winner getting a prize.

Hey, free stuff! I'm there, dude.

We all four agreed, and at his direction, went to the other end of the new parking lot, in front of OTASCO, and lined up side by side, to await his signal.

When he dropped his raised arm, we were to race and pass in front of him, and come back for the prize. If it was close, he was to be the judge, as the finish line was right in front of his mobile unit.

In the distance, the arm fell, and I zoned out. I've talked a bit on this blog about how I become a different person on a bicycle, and this day was no exception. When I zone out like that on a bike, human powered vehicle mayhem and pain usually results. I definitely remember Rocky starting faster than I did. I think his bike was geared slightly lower than mine, which was good on the starting part, but if I had distance, I could usually catch up with him.

What happened to the girls, I have absolutely no idea. To this day, I can only remember thinking I had to beat Rocky. In my mind, I can best remember them at the DJ's mobile broadcasting thingy when he first called Rocky and I over. Maybe I was an 11 year old sexist, but I guessed I could beat a girl in a bicycle race! Plus, I was on my beloved Sears Gremlin. The Gremlin and I were hardy race veterans; having known the triumph of blowing other bikes/kids off the road, as well as the heartbreak of defeat. We knew instinctively Rocky was the man to beat.

So we start, and Rocky jumps into the lead, he's just to my right. We're standing on the pedals and pumping for all we're worth. I start to pull up beside Rocky as I gain my full speed...


Next thing I know, I'm face down, legs tangled in my bike frame and chain, and sliding to a stop using both forearms and elbows as brakes.

Turns out that my chain broke in the stress of the race, and standing and pedaling when it happened, I went down hard. Really, really hard.

I literally tore the skin off both forearms and elbows, from the elbows to about half way to my wrists. Bad enough that blood was dripping pretty good.

Rocky won the race, and after collecting his prize, came back to check on me. He hadn't known I wrecked so badly.

At the same time, his Mom and Dad happened to be pulling through the parking lot, looking for a good spot, saw us, and my damaged condition, and said they would take me straight home. It took us a while to get my right foot untangled from the broken chain that had also wedged between the rear socket and the frame.

Rocky and his Dad put my bike in the back of the truck. I remember crying and telling them, "My Mama's gonna KILL me!" And Rocky's Mom saying, "No, no. Now I know she's not going to do that. It was an accident."

Anyway, Rocky's parents, with us and our bikes in the back of the truck, took us the short drive to my home.

I remember riding back there with my arms bent, hands in the air, and dripping blood in the back of the old pickup.

Mama was home, and no, she didn't kill me. I remember Rocky and his Mom telling her what happened and her leading me to the kitchen sink to try to clean my wounds.

My arms and elbows and wounds had jillions of tiny black specks in the raw meat there, from the freshly paved parking lot. We literally had to stick my arms under the faucet and wash the wounds with soap and Mom rubbing the arms, pain notwithstanding, to try to clean all of that tar out. I can still remember the bottle of liquid Ivory dish soap she used to suds up her hands and try to wash my arms with.

With four kids, Sainted Mother kept a good supply of rubbing alcohol around, but by the time she got the hamburger meat of my forearms clean, I was so tuckered out, that the final dousing of alcohol wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

At least that's the way I remember it. She might remember it with me freaking out totally about the alcohol, but I find it strange that the initial washing and the Ivory soap is so vivid, but the alcohol being poured on them being a dim memory.


For the next four to six weeks, we had to keep bandages over that whole scraped area of each arm. I would forget when I sat down and would put my arms on whatever chair's arm rests and would instantly regret it. I remember having to be careful in school too, around other kids and even how I wrote on my desks in the classrooms. I even had to miss an evening of roller skating in Natchez, during the time I was healing, which killed my soul. I sucked at skating, but I loved doing it anyway. I remember sitting there and watching though, it was cool to get to go with the other kids from church even if I was too afraid of falling on my raw arms.

After that bike wreck, although that new parking lot was smooth for riding, I knew it wasn't really very smooth.

So that's one of many dramatic bicycle wrecks I've had over the years. In my right elbow, I still have a really hard small lump, either from scar tissue, or as I thought as a youngster, that a small rock got ground into the flesh and not washed out, and eventually healed over. It definitely feels like a little rock under my skin there though. When I'm nervous or just thinking, I tend to rub that lump near my right elbow.

I like to think of it as a piece of shrapnel from my personal battles that I'll carry until I die.


Babystepper said...

Now that is a classy bike! Poor little JAM! No one likes to have their bike turn on them.

Hammer said...

I had a similar bike wreck broken chain and everything. It's a good thing kids are made resiliant and heal quickly.

Cool looking bike by the way!

julie said...

Oh my!! Whenever someone shares a physically painful experience with me I sense creepy crawly feelings on the backs of my knees...your vivid account created that feeling!

Must rub backs of knees...sheesh!!!

JAM said...

It was the bike style of the times. Once Schwinn had such big success with the "stingray" style, every other bicycle maker jumped on the bandwagon.

Really, high-rise handlebars and banana seats are pretty bad design for real control of a bicycle. I sure loved mine though.

Sindi1968 said...

Otasco !!!!
Everytime I read you blog I go back to my child hood.