Monday, October 17, 2011


My bicycle was my ticket to my town- Florence, Alabama.   I got my first for Christmas when I was in the second grade. It was a new red 24 inch one speed Murray that Daddy had ordered through his store, Dixie Supply. “The Store” was  located one block south of the court house facing court street and would become a most common destination for me when I got home form school at 2:30 each day.   No one had ever
 challenged me to ride a bicycle and it sat unused on our high concrete front port for that winter and most of the spring.  I asked Daddy quite a few times to help me learn to ride it and one day he suggested  we  take it out for a try. We crossed Cherry street and pushed the bike on the road south of Coffee High to the practice football field.  I guess Daddy felt that would be a much softer landing than the black paved streets we walked down to our destination. The surface of the field was hard packed dirt with clumps of short grass on it.  I mounted my wheels and Daddy pushed me holding the bike up as we picked up speed. Gradually he moved back to where he was only holding  to the back of the seat and the rear fender. I had heard the story of how he did this with my older brothers and that when he let loose he would jingle his keys in his hands to give the impression that he was still with the rider.   I was looking for this but he didn’t try it.  I managed a few rotations of the black rubber peddles on my own before losing balance and curving into the hard ground. I had heavy denim jeans on and a long sleeved  shirt so I managed with minor scratches.  After  four times of this and going a little farther each time I finally knew I was really managing the bicycle on my own though with periods of serious wobbling.

The next task was to be able to start it without help. This took longer.  For several days  I would prop myself and the bike against a fence post and put the right peddle as high as it would go. Then I could give a strong push from the post  with my hand and an even stronger one on the right peddle with my foot and that would get me going.  I mastered this but realized  I was limited in the number of places I could start my bike.  Within a week I was able to start it without support if I positioned the peddle correctly and made that all important initial stroke with my right foot. Now I had the town of Florence at my beckon call.  For the next seven years I was only minutes away from the places that I would travel to time and again.
Our Cherry St. Home

One other important skill that had to be learned was to be able to drive my bike into our front yard. Our white frame house  was on a high hill at 637 N. Cherry. There was a steep set of a dozen concrete steps from the street up to our small front yard.  The land sloped down to the South through the Cobb’s yard and then became more level with the street. There was a red dirt slopped path at the corner of the Cobb’s lot down to the street.  From there Cherry Street went back up with significant steepness. For some weeks I would stop at the bottom of the path and push my bike up the path and on to my front yard. But that  was a demonstration of my lack of bike riding sophistication and put an embarrassing limit  on  coming and going to important places. So the task was to be able to come down the Cherry hill street fast enough to coast up the red rough path into and across  the Cobb’s front yard.(It never occurred to me that I might ask permission for this regular crossing of the Cobb’s yard. But my guess they never gave that a thought. None of us were into manicured lawns in those days.) I  had to have good speed and had to hit the path at the exact right spot and angle or a very unpleasant crash could occur. I had a crash or two on the path as I developed this essential skill which  left me with skinned knees , elbows and torn jeans.

 There was another entrance to home which was the back alley.  It  was covered with red rocky dirt we called chert. It had lots of various sized pieces of flint in it which made a very bad surface on which to take a bike spill.   The process still involved coming down the alley hill quite fast so you could make it to the top of the next hill which is where our back yard began.  I think I came to prefer nearly always taking  the greater challenge of the front approach. It gave me  a feeling of high control over my vehicle and once you hit the bottom of the path at good speed I could nearly coast all the way to my parking place on the wide side walk at the foot of our front porch steps. I loved that bicycle. It represented a lot of freedom and adventure. Jim

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