Archive for September, 2009

Why parents get prematurely grey

September 27, 2009

Over the years, my siblings and I pulled some pretty good stunts on our parents.  These were almost always, but no by all means totally, at my instigation.  Don’t get me wrong; I got along reasonably well with my parents, but there were times when the little ‘gotcha’ bug burrowed deeply into my body and planted an idea.

There was the time that my brother and I took great care dabbing little mercurochrome dots all over my young sister’s body.  She was about 2 if I remember correctly and didn’t have any real say in the matter.  She did, however, hold still for us while we worked – occasionally trying to rub off a spot or two.

My mom was downstairs doing the washing at the time and came back upstairs with an armload of clean folded clothing for us kids to put away.  My brother’s stuff and mine were laid neatly on our beds and we were given the admonishment to ‘not mess around and put it away’.  Then she turned and went in our sister’s room.

“Yikes!” I think she said (I could be wrong; it might have been something entirely different).

“What?” I asked.

She didn’t answer right away and I soon heard her rushing around the bedroom grabbing baby clothes from drawers and putting them on my sister in preparation to rushing her to the base hospital.  She did begin to smell a rat I think when my brother and I erupted in poorly suppressed mirth at her consternation.

“All right, who did it,” she intoned, casting an eye over the two of us.

“I cannot tell a lie” I answered with wide innocent eyes aimed at my brother.  “He did.”

Once I was able to master the one-tube receiver and began to absorb a deeper understanding of radio theory I came across an advertisement for a simple one-tube broadcast band transmitter in one of my electronic magazines:

“Have fun in your own home fooling your friends.  Using this simple circuit and a short antenna you, too, can broadcast your voice through any available radio.  All you need is to speak into the microphone and you are instantly ‘on the air’”.

This sounded almost too good to be true I thought.  I could immediately see the possibilities of this fantastic device.  For the next three weeks I saved what little allowance I got ($2 a week) and carefully cut out the coupon, liberated an envelope from my mom’s desk, and mailed off my $5 (plus postage).

I haunted the mailbox for several weeks following the mailing hoping that the transmitter would arrive soon.  Finally, the mail carrier walked down the street, turned into our house and reached into his bag to pull out a square box (and some other stuff).  Since I happened to be in the vicinity, I volunteered to take the mail to my mom and he handed all of it to me.

I hot-footed into the living room, tossed the rest of the mail on the coffee table, and rushed immediately upstairs to my room – holding the box carefully like a delicate flower – and put the box on my desk.  Carefully, I cut the top and folded back the lid.  Inside were several paper bags, another small (but heavy) box, and an RCA tube box.  The instruction book consisted of several printed pages and a detailed schematic of the device.

It took me most of the week to assemble the device, mainly because I had a couple of false starts and had to reverse my steps.  After I dumped the contents of all the different paper envelopes on the desk I then read in the instructions to wait until each pack was called out before opening it.  Hey, I was twelve – who reads instructions?

Finally!  It was assembled and ready to test.  After making sure my mom was out of the house for the afternoon, I went downstairs, tuned the radio to a dead spot on the dial and rushed back upstairs. I hooked up the “A” battery (1.5 volts) to the filament of the tube and snapped the contact plate to the larger “B” battery (45 volts) and slowly turned the dial.  At one point there was a horrible screech from the radio downstairs as my transmitter matched the radio’s frequency.

I thumped my finger on the microphone and was rewarded by a matching thump downstairs.

“Hello?  Hello?  Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” was repeated much amplified from downstairs.

“What the hell are you doing now” my brother asked from the doorway (he was forbidden to enter my room on pain of death).  “Dad’s gonna have a fit if he thinks you’ve messed with his radio.”

“I haven’t done a thing to it.  It’s this” I said, indicating the breadboarded device on my desk.  “This is transmitting to the radio.”

“Cool!” He responded.  “What are you gonna do with it?”

He can be a real dim bulb sometimes, but he had hit on exactly the dilemma I was trying to work out – what to do with it.

“I don’t know” I responded.  “Any ideas?”

We talked about several things we could do until he mentioned that our father liked to listen to the news in the evening.  He and I thought it might be nice to maybe do some campaigning for our Christmas desires a bit early (it was October, I think) so we wrote a script outlining what we wanted from “Santa”.

My brother – ever practical – said the he would probably recognize my voice the first time he heard it.  Shoot, he’s right I thought.  How was I going to mask my voice?  We tried many different ways to sound different from the ridiculous (put marbles in my mouth) to the sublime (see if I could talk another adult into helping me).  While trying one method, I took a drink of water while talking.  As the glass neared my lips, the timbre of my voice changed into a positively Boris Karloff-like intonation.  This caused me to finally end up with a wash bucket over my head and, after my brother’s hysterics had passed, he went downstairs and listened to how it sounded.

He came back up and said that it really sounded good to him so we tuned the radio to my dad’s favorite station and I re-tuned the transmitter to that frequency.  When the batteries were connected, the normal station was completely eliminated and my voice began filling the living room.  I disconnected the batteries again and we were ready.

He came home at the usual time and, after dinner, dropped into his easy chair after turning on the radio.  After letting him listen to a couple of news stories I connected the batteries and began to read.

“Good evening” I intoned.  “This broadcast is being brought to you by Baedeker’s Toy Store.  The only toy store that has what all kids really want for Christmas.”

I didn’t get much farther than that before a bellow from below came echoing from downstairs.

“All right.  If I find out you’ve screwed up my radio you’re in big trouble kiddo.”

I could hear the sounds of the radio being pulled away from the wall as he checked for wires as I kept up my listing of toys the two of us would like to have.

Things would have been just fine except that I managed to reach up with my hand, touch the metal bucket, and (since I was holding the microphone in my other hand) complete the circuit between the antenna, my elbow, and the 45-volt battery.

Now, 45 volts won’t kill you, but it WILL definitely force a wild, banshee-like sound from deep inside you to be emitted.  This, coupled with the echo from inside the bucket, caused the radio downstairs to greatly amplify my anguish.  This also caused the bucket to be launched across the room and my own pain-filled voice to announce:

“WAH!  SHIT!  That hurts!”

Retribution swiftly followed; I was sentenced to ten swats with The Paddle.

We were foraging behind one of the stores in our huge four-store strip mall near home and found a perfectly good left arm.  Not a real one (that would have been cool too) but one from a store dummy.  It was smooth, flesh-toned, and had all its fingers.  We thought that the reason it had been discarded was the clip on the ‘shoulder’ had broken so that it wouldn’t stick to a torso any more.  This, I decided, had possibilities; and the wheels began turning.

We kept our garbage can on our back porch which was attached to the rear of the kitchen.  Since the back yard was lower than the level of the porch there was a set of steps down to ground level.  One of my jobs every week to earn my allowance ($2) was to horse the garbage can down those steps and out to the street.  It was a hazardous job most of the time, but after a huge meal ending up with watermelon, it made the can very heavy.  In this, the plan was hatched.

I stashed the fake arm under the back steps wrapped in an old t-shirt of mine, ready for instant action.  On Tuesday evening (our garbage was picked up on Wednesday) I carried out my plan.  As I went out the back door I noticed that my dad had piled some empty paint cans near the door.  Heck, I thought, those would help make noise too.

With deliberation I wrestled the garbage can to the bottom of the steps and carefully tipped it on its side. Next I set the paint cans on the top step and added several other items that would certainly make more noise.  The scene was set.

I gave out with a blood-curdling yell, pushed the paint cans down the steps and stomped down the stairs after them.  Reaching the bottom, I quickly lay down, pulled the fake arm out from beneath the step, folded my real arm under me, extended the fake arm – but disconnected by about six inches – from my shoulder, and waited.

My sister was the first on the scene and, when she took in my apparently disjointed arm, started screaming for my parents.  Next up was my brother, who scanned the accident and began laughing.  My mother followed closely by my dad was next.  She began to hyperventilate until my dad looked at all the apparent carnage and told my brother to go get a hammer and some nails to stick my arm back on.

I could suddenly hear the crickets under the porch chirping and the sigh of wind through the porch screens as it became very quiet.  My mom broke the silence by asking:

“It’s not real?”

“Nah” said my dad.  “Look at the hand, the nails are clean and it’s not dirty.  So it can’t be his.”

Dads are so practical.

T.O.M.

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Cautionary Tales

September 19, 2009

When I was around ten or eleven years old kite flying was all the rage.  There were all sorts of kites to be built: box, triangles, trapezoids, and even a circular one.  In a given month I probably built as many as five or six of them in varying shapes and/or sizes.

Several of my buddies and I were huddled in our clubhouse (a dirt-floored area under my back porch) poring over plans in a magazine for several kites.  Since there were six of us and five plans naturally we split among ourselves on which one to build.  We never agreed at that meeting which one to try but over a period of a week or so we generally agreed that a box kite would be our next project.

We started gathering materials for the kite – several clumps of tissue paper (ultimately destined for Christmas presents), some bamboo sticks (my dad never did find out what happened to his fly rod), various bits of twine, and a small pot of glue.

On the day we started, Bob noticed that the instructions for the glue stated that it needed to be heated.  After thinking a bit, we came up with our Boy Scout stove which was fired with small pellets of fuel.  We dragged it out, fired it up, and set the pot of glue on the small burner while we turned to cutting out the panels of tissue paper we would need.

As industrious as we were, not one of us noticed that the pot needed to actually be opened before putting it on the stove.  The pot solved that problem by promptly popping the lid (which stuck to the rafters overhead), bubbling out half of the glue all over our pre-cut tissue paper, and generally spraying each one of us with hot glue.

“HOOP! That burns” was pretty much the only printable shout that ensued as we prepared to scrape hardened glue from our arms.  “Come on, Paul, your mom was going to give you a haircut soon anyway wasn’t she?” ran a close second.

Carefully, we managed to remove most of the glue from our fingers after finding out that picking up tissue paper with glue on your hands really doesn’t work well.

Starting virtually over again, we re-cut tissue panels and set them aside so we could work on the struts and risers of the actual box.  The phrase ‘measure twice and cut once’ now comes to mind, but none of us had ever heard that back then as we managed to turn it around to ‘cut many times and don’t bother to measure’.  Finally, we had four long sticks and four shorter cross-members ready.

Gluing the paper to the long portion of the kite proved pretty frustrating as we had no idea that you were supposed to lay three sticks down flat, glue the paper to them (top and bottom panels) and then bring the edges together at top and bottom to glue to the fourth stick.  Several trials later (and a small raiding party to obtain more tissue) we finally had the four side members glued to paper.

It was time now to put in the cross-braces.  These are supposed to be inserted in a “X” shape running from one corner to the diagonal corner so with infinite care we tried our very best to notch the ends of the braces to they wouldn’t slip off the sticks.  Note to all kite makers:  bamboo does NOT split well and will continue to split when a crack is started longitudinally.  In short, we needed something other than bamboo for the cross-braces.

With a hoot of divine inspiration Donny took off home and returned with the tattered remains of his last kite and handed us its balsawood stiffening members to use.  They worked well and we even had several pieces left over for the inevitable crash we would have later on.

Finally the time came to test our creation.  We adjourned to the street and sat the kite on its haunches, attached the cord to it, and ran out about thirty or forty yards of twine from the big ball of twine we used.  Luckily, the wind was rushing by us at a fairly good clip and appeared to be steady right down the road.  With a watcher at each end of the block (for cars) the swiftest one among us began running down the road and into the wind.

The kite rose majestically to a height of around fifteen feet, swerved from side to side, and nosed over towards the ground.  Sensing something was amiss; Bob slowed, and then stopped – puffing hard.

We reset the attachment point a little and tried again.  This time it soared higher and higher until it reached the same height as the trees around us then took on a mind of its own as it reached into the actual jet stream above the trees, quickly putting on a burst of altitude.  Rapidly stripping twine from the ball, Bob attempted to keep up with the climbing kite until … the bitter end of the twine slipped from the stick at the center of the ball and floated away.  This caused the kite to lose any stability it ever had and made it decide to flutter crazily downwind.

Whether by design (the kite’s that is) or just luck (we’ll never know) the trailing twine snagged an upper branch of the tallest tree down the block and halted our runaway kite.

“Well, poop.  What’re we gonna do now?” Alex asked, watching the tree hold our creation.

“Maybe we could climb up and snag the string?” I volunteered.

“Not me!”

“Not me.”

“Not me.”

“Not me.”

And that’s were we left it.  As far as I can tell, the kite came down sometime in the night because the tree was bare the next day.  We never found it.

Since my dad was a Meteorologist at the base he had access to all kinds of really neat stuff for kids.  One of the best things he ever brought home was a selection of weather balloons.  Some of them were fairly small, around eighteen inches across, but the prize in the collection was huge.

This balloon was meant to loft a collection of Radiosonde electronics which weighed around a pound and a half so it had to be pretty large.  I stared at that balloon for days wondering what I could to with it until – now, let’s not always see the same hands – Yes, you there bouncing up and down in your seat.

“You could fill it with water and really drown someone.”

“I think that’s a splendid idea young man,” I thought.

As I saw it, there were some inherent problems in implementing that sort of insidious prank, mainly (and in no particular order) support while filling, actual filling, launching, and, finally, delivery.  While, technically, launching and delivery would be the same thing I thought them to be two separate items.

Grubbing behind the hardware store one afternoon I spied a very sturdy box which originally held a washing machine.  Dashing home to get my brother’s wagon, I went back, loaded the box onto it, and brought it home.  After cutting the sides down a little I found that the balloon would fit nicely inside the box.  And now, what to do about launch.

I remembered my dad had some nice long boards down in the basement so I managed to locate a board around ten feet long and about twelve inches across which would do nicely.  A short piece of firewood provided the necessary fulcrum for the board so I placed everything right next to our front porch which sat about ten feet high over our front yard.

Attaching the hose proved a bit difficult until I found that I could wrap loops of twine around the hose which I stuck into the neck of the balloon.  Filling it took a bit of time because I had to readjust the balloon’s position with the box for maximum fill.  Finally, it was full so I tied the neck tightly on the quivering balloon in a box.

I had no idea how I was going to test this because anyone who walked up to the front door would see it so  I decided to wait until it got dark and see if anyone would come to visit.  I was not fussy, even one of my friends would surely see the humor in it.

Finally, after sitting for what seemed like hours on the narrow steel railing of my front porch, I spied one of my buddies pedaling up the street and called to him.

“What?” he asked, searching for me in the gloom.

“Over here by the porch” I replied.

As he dropped his bike and entered the yard I prepared to leap off the porch and onto the empty end of my catapult.  Closer, closer, and closer he came.

Finally, I judged he was close enough and lept.

On my way down I heard the front screen door open and my dad’s voice tell me it was time for dinner.  What I didn’t know was that when I hit the end of the board that the box (suitably fixed to the board to it would stay attached) launched the balloon fully into the air – and directly towards the front door.

“BOOSH!”

“WHAT THE HELL TO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?” roared my dad, soaked to the bone by at least twenty gallons of water – and hit by a very wet, sloppy, piece of rubber.

My buddy collapsed to the ground, roaring with laughter; I was struck dumb with horror; and my dad had departed to grab The Paddle.

I don’t remember him ever bringing home any more balloons.

One of the programs on the fledgling medium of television was a rather good program called Zorro.  We kids thought he was really cool dressed all in black, riding a black horse, slashing “Z” into all manner of items, and, most of all, cracking his whip at the bad Alcalde’s troops.

At one time or another each of us would run around with fake swords and mock fight each other.  None of us had ever tried to make a whip though – except me, that is.

I started with some really nice hemp rope and untwisted several strands to make it a bit more pliable. To this I attached two jump rope handles glued together.  All in all it ran to around twelve feet or so in length.

On my very first try, I snapped my hand back over my head (just managing to miss catching the end of the whip on my nose) and brought it forward over my shoulder with great force.

The rope curled around behind me, popped loudly as it zoomed past my head (but hit it anyway) and straightened out directly in front of me.  Not stopping there however it curled back around and struck me in the groin region – hard.

I still have a small scar on my ear from that whip but at least I don’t talk in a high voice. Don’t ever try to emulate Zorro.

T.O.M.

Things I remember but have gone missing now – Pt 2

September 12, 2009

Here are some more items for thought:

21. The Heath Company of Benton Harbor, MI,  was one company I was really sorry to see close its doors.  They made electronic kits that the common man could put together.  You didn’t have to be an electrical engineer to do it. My first ‘real’ stereo amplifier was a Heathkit.  The Heath Company was in business solely for the electronic hobbyist that wanted to assemble their own equipment.  My first was a tube-type stereo amplifier, and weighed as much as my first car, consumed electricity through a power transformer that hummed mightily, and glowed bright orange in the dark from all the tube filaments.  From the time I bought my first Heathkit to the time they closed down I figure I’ve spent around $10 or $12 thousand dollars.  I bought stereos, televisions, auto repair, test equipment, computers (H-8) and, most of all, an entire amateur radio setup.  I still have the ham equipment: HW-101 transceiver, SB-200 linear and all the auxiliary stuff to run it from soup to nuts; and an automotive emission analyzer.  The Knight Company out in Chicago was another electronics company that closed their doors long ago.  My crystal-controlled Novice transmitter was a Knight T-50; a fifty watt CW transmitter.

22. To go with all the transistorized stereo (and quad) equipment I bought in Japan, I also bought speaker cabinets large enough to use as an end table. I LIKE large cabinets; ones with speakers you can actually see. My cabinets have only 14-inch woofers, but I guarantee that these 350 Watt babies would crack the plaster on your walls. Nowadays, it appears that anyone wanting good-sounding sound has to stick ear buds in their ears and not be able to relax to good sounds from a speaker larger than a cigar box.

23. SERVICE stations with free air and a “what will it be, sir?” attendant.

And:

24. They had rubber hose “dingers” that signaled you needed service when you pulled in.

And:

25. These attendants would ask: “Regular or Ethyl?”

26. I liked the old wooden roller coasters that scared you, not today’s computer-generated, CAD/CAM-produced, welded-pipe coasters that try to dismember you.

27. I had a tree house in our back yard.  Do kids still make tree houses (with Boys or Girls ‘keep out’ signs)?

28. One of the things that attracted me very much during high school was girls that wore skirts with plenty of petticoats.  Poodle skirts lent themselves to this configuration well.  There must be some reason that practice stopped – financial, perhaps?

29. Every teenager around me owned a 45rpm record changer.  It rarely had its own amplifier so it had to be plugged into the auxiliary jack on your stereo (or mono) amplifier. It consisted of a central spindle upon which you could pile at least 8 or 10 records; then, when all of them had played, you’d lift them up flip the stack and play the reverse sides.

30. In conjunction with the playing of vinyl records was the usual controversy between people who liked/used a Sapphire-tipped stylus and those who advocated a diamond-tipped stylus.  Usually, the diamond advocates were richer than the sapphire ones – maybe that’s the reason but no matter now, as the styli have disappeared.

31. As long as we are on a stereo kick – how about reel-to-reel tape recorders? I have three of them: a very nice Akai 10-inch, a Sony quad-channel job, and a Panasonic auto-reverse machine.  Finding a source of tape is getting very difficult; not to mention having to eventually find replacement heads when these wear down – and they will.

32. I mourn the demise of Morse code.  Pretty much every country in the world now has removed the requirement to be proficient in Morse code in their applications for an Amateur Radio license.  I learned it at the tender age of 11 and worked myself up to being able to copy over 45 words per minute while in the Navy.  With the exception of the ham bands, I can’t find it on the airwaves any more.  There were no better operators than those of the defunct Soviet Commercial Shipping fleet.

33. Automobiles with features that made them totally recognizable.  Back in the ‘old’ days, everyone eagerly awaited the appearance (in the fall) of the new models.  There was no one that could confuse a Chevy with a Ford or Buick with a Studebaker.  Nowadays, even up close, there isn’t much difference in models from one manufacturer to the next.  An Urban Assault Vehicle looks pretty much the same and I see no real difference between an Infiniti and a Lexus and a KIA – plenty of plastic and hardly a lick of good, old, steel.

34. I miss gangs of kids from all over the neighborhood gathering in someone’s yard to play some sort of game.  We used to have rousing games of Kick the Can, Run Sheep Run, Hide and Go Seek, and others.  I guess this one’s demise is due mostly to the urban attitude that ‘my house is my castle and keep the hell off my grass.’  Homeowners are now more fearful of litigation if one of the kids gets hurt than any other reason would be my secondary assumption.  Thirdly, there just doesn’t seem to be much stimulation now for kids to gather anymore.  That’s sad, I think, that in-home attractions are more powerful than letting kids just be kids.

35. Streetcars.  I really miss streetcars.  Growing up in Washington DC (and Germany, for that matter) I was able to pedal just a couple of miles to the nearest streetcar circle, park my bike and climb aboard. One would drop a dime into the cool little glass-sided box that let you see your coin work its way down the various traps to the collection box.  If you grabbed a transfer ticket on each car you entered you could travel over the entire system without spending another dime.  DC had a huge system that covered the entire metro and surrounding area.  It was us kids method of getting out to Glen Echo amusement park.

36. Television repairmen.  Nowadays, it seems simpler to just trash your non-functional unit and buy another one.  That goes for virtually any other electronic or electric device we have now.  When’s the last time you’ve taken a broken vacuum cleaner somewhere to have it fixed?  Been a while, hasn’t it?

37.  I used to have a great pair of stilts.  I built them from scratch and wore the tips down quite a bit with use.  They made me just over a foot taller.

T.O.M.

Run for your lives, the dam has broken!

September 7, 2009

The small town was started by a couple of guys.  They began by modestly building several houses from plans in an architectural digest.  Others joined them in constructing the rest of the town.  It soon grew to almost city size.

In hardly any time at all there appeared an airport; a small shopping area, several schools, and lots of farms dotting the little valley.   Railroad tracks began to appear near the summit of a small hill and snake their way down to the station in town.

Through the valley ran a small stream – not really a river, but enough to have the population start work on a dam above town.  Construction began using earthmovers, mobile shovels, and graders.

Soon the dam was beginning to fill the lake which would provide electrical power for the rest of the valley.  It was hailed as a crowning achievement for all involved.  More people were attracted and they began putting down their own homes in the valley.  Roads were created to service these far-flung ranches.

One day, high-flying planes appeared and began to circle the valley.  They would dip low, zoom back and forth, and then return to altitude.  No one really remarked on what type of planes they were, only that they had appeared. It was assumed that these planes were simply on a training mission … until the first bomb was dropped.

It was apparent from the very beginning that their intent was to break the dam. Almost every bomb was aimed at it – trying to find a weak spot.  The residents of the valley were understandably upset and began to fight back with everything they possessed.

The ensuing battle was hard fought: the township residents with huge, green pine cones and the circling pilots lighting the fuses to cherry bombs and dropping them on the dam.  Finally, one lucky hit demolished one side of the dam and it began to leak.  Despite their concentrated efforts, the dam folded outward and started a huge wall of water down the valley.

Oh, the humanity!  Cardboard houses were ripped asunder; plastic animals swept away, and whole model automobiles tumbled down the valley.  Still, the battle raged onwards.  Hit after hit with ground-to-air pine cones finally drove the bomber pilots away but all was in vain – the town was lost.  All that could be done was to gather what we could and retreat to my yard for an after-action critique; but not until we all attacked the ice cream truck for sustenance.

T.O.M.

Haiku on the brain

September 4, 2009

Darn.  I’ve had Haiku on my mind all day.  I’d better get rid of it before I try to sleep or I’ll be up all night:

My yard is a mess

Too long without a cutting

Hie to my mower!

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Cat is mesmerized

A warbler picks at thistle

Thin glass separates

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Birds outside the window

They mock me with their shrill tweets

I am cat – I wait

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Clouds begin to form

A face among them will appear

Holy Cow! It is me!

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

There, now I got them out of my system.  lol

T.O.M.

That frighteningly wonderful First Kiss

September 3, 2009

There was a fairly large group of kids that hung around together quite a bit.  During the summer vacation we did a lot of day-long bike trips.  Sometimes we would just run over to the other side of the housing development to a ball field and play softball, but most of all we liked to go out on our bikes for runs in the woods.

We had several trails we would run on ranging in difficulty from ‘easy’ to ‘get off and walk up/down the hill’.  We were an equal opportunity group of kids so we would allow girls to come along with us.  This was tolerated by the older kids, and tittered about by the younger ones, but, mostly, we just took it in stride.  After all, some of us had good friends who happened to be a girl.

Kathleen lived next door to me and, although we hadn’t actually said so, even to each other, we kind of liked to hang around together.  I never thought of her as being anything special but simply someone to talk to across the fence in the evenings and the like.

One Saturday, we were gathering up a group to go out bicycling in the woods.  Word was passed around the neighborhood rapidly so we ended up with about fifteen kids of varying ages.  The mob was staging down at Hal’s house so Kathleen and I hopped on our bikes and joined them.  Soon the pack was pedaling briskly downhill to the woods across the stream that ran along our development’s border.

Several trails had been worn into the woods by us kids, some more difficult than others.  There were some really steep hills to be overcome on the trail we picked this day which tended to string us out a bit.  I noticed that Kathleen was lagging back and asked her what was wrong.  She showed me that her chain kept jumping off the sprocket and she would have to stop and put it back on.

I had a small tool kit in my pannier and made a couple of adjustments to the chain. It appeared that it would stay where it belonged so we sped up to get with the rest of the group.  We huffed and puffed our way to the top of the hill but couldn’t find them at all.  We had probably taken a wrong turn somewhere.  Since the both of us knew the trails pretty well we just decided to head out on our own.  We picked the wrong trail.

We wound around the ridge of the hill for a while and then headed down a very steep, narrow trail.  She was in front of me and, since I was paying attention to my own steering, I didn’t hear her at first.  The first indication she was in trouble was her scream of fear as she yelled that her chain had come off again.

These were not modern ‘Mountain’ bikes, or any kind of bike with handlebar brakes, these were simple, coaster-brake bikes.  With no chain, she had no brakes and she was picking up speed very rapidly.

I was trying hard to keep close to her but not actually knowing how I could help.  I was looking down to avoid a patch of gravel and didn’t actually see her hit the fallen log in the middle of the trail.  My eyes snapped up when I heard her loud yell and watched as she flew over the handlebars, crashed to the ground on her side, bounced once and ended up on her stomach.  The bicycle, after doing a loop over her head, narrowly missed breaking her arm as it went bouncing down the trail.

I slid to a stop and leapt off my bike.  She wasn’t moving at all as I rushed to her side.  When I knelt down next to her I could see she was breathing, but her eyes were closed.  My Scout training kicked in so I knew better than to try and move her, or roll her over on her back or anything, so I raced back to my bike and got my canteen of water.  I began wiping some of the dirt from the back of her neck and, as I did, she groaned and raised her head.

I figured that if she could do that at least her neck was all right.  She groaned again, looked at me with slightly unfocused eyes and reached out for my arm with a surprisingly firm grasp.

Her eyes went out of focus again and she started sucking in breath which was quickly expelled with a loud “Wooooooooo”.  This was followed by other expressions of pain.  I felt completely helpless as she began chanting “OOwwwww … Woooohhhhhooooo … Hoooooo”.  She held her eyes tightly closed but that didn’t stop tears from leaking down her dirt-streaked cheeks as her body was wracked with pain.

“Oh … Ow … I really hurt” she said in a voice filled with pain.  “My knee banged on something I think.”

I looked briefly and saw that her right knee was showing through her torn jeans and it was leaking blood from a large scraped spot.  She had apparently hit the ground there first.

“Are you okay?” I asked, but that was a really stupid thing to say – of course she wasn’t ‘okay’.

“I … I think so.” She answered as she slowly rolled over on her back.  “My arm hurts something fierce too.”

I examined a large knob that was forming on her left forearm.  That, I figured, had happened when she hit the ground also – probably on that large rock near the log.  Her eyelids fluttered open and closed several times as she tried to focus on my face more closely.

“Ohh, I really hurt all over”

She squeezed her eyes shut and tears continued flowing freely as she tried to rise to a sitting position by pulling on my shoulders.  I thought she might be hurt elsewhere so I tried to make her lay flat, but she was determined to use my arms to pull herself up.  I assisted as best as I could.  I lifted her gently by supporting her shoulders and, as she got her feet under her, she rose fully.  She had tear tracks now running down the dust on her face and I was overwhelmed by a desire to hold her close and wipe them away.

I put my arm around her shoulders and helped her hobble over to another log parallel to the trail and sat her down.  I knelt at her feet and examined her scraped knee.  She had a large patch of skin sanded off which was oozing blood but I didn’t see any actually flowing.  I pulled my t-shirt over my head, dampened it with water, and proceeded to sponge her knee.  As I did, I realized she was watching me closely.  I looked up at her and a strange feeling came over me.  My ears started to buzz as I stared directly into her eyes and I began to perspire.

I had never before in my life felt more protective of anyone.  It was as if my heart had left my body and was waiting to see what I would do before soaring or crashing to the ground.  My breath came in short pants. My whole world had shrunk to just her and those wonderful eyes.  I seemed to not hear the light wind, the chattering of the birds, or the rustle of tree leaves – only her soft breathing as we looked at each other.  I leaned forward and hugged her to me as she began to cry softly on my shoulder.  I caressed her hair and said soft things in her ear to help calm her.  I suddenly realized something that I had subconsciously already known somehow:  I was in love with her.

She went quiet for a moment and then turned to face me again; much closer now.  Her eyes, which I had never really noticed before, were hazel and flecked with gold.  I fell deeply into them.  We hesitated just a moment before I bent close and kissed a tear running down her cheek. She began kissing back – my neck, cheek, and, finally my lips. I wrapped my arms around her tightly.

Powerful waves of differing emotions swept over me.  I felt like I could fly or run or leap over the surrounding trees.  I wanted to scream out loud and, at the same time, whisper words of love.  I clung tightly to her for what seemed like ages with our lips locked together.  We fell apart gasping for air.

“I think I’m in love with you Kathleen.” I said simply.  “I don’t think I realized it until I saw you falling.  There was nothing I could do.  I felt so helpless.”

“I’ll be fine. It’s just a scrape on my knee and a bump here.” She said as she held out her arm to show me. “Mom’s going to have a cow though when she sees these torn jeans – they’re new.”

We held each other until our emotions calmed down then looked at the mess of her bicycle.  The front wheel had a big dent in the rim, the tire was blown, and three spokes were broken.  One handlebar was bent upwards and it looked like the fork may have even been bent.  There was no doubt in my mind her bike was done for.

“We’ll have to get it back home to fix it.  Let me see if I can fasten your front wheel to my rear wheel and we’ll walk them back”, I said.

With a bit of rope I had, we managed to lash her front wheel to the carry basket over my rear wheel.  Before we started back up the trail I hauled the log out of the trail and pushed it over the side of the hill.

The way I felt, I could have carried the bikes, her, and anything else all the way home. I was invincible.  She tucked her shoulder under my arm, put her arm around my waist and we began the long walk home.  I was in heaven.

The next time I worked up enough nerve to kiss her again we were watching a movie.  That one I’ve already documented.

T.O.M.