It all started with a trip to the neighborhood store.
Come one summer morning when the sun was out and the wind was blowing so hard it rippled my T shirt like waves on choppy seas, I spent one special day with my brother Pat and some neighborhood kids. We were fairly new to the neighborhood so, at first, it was just Pat and I. We'd walked down the gravel hill of Bush street to the Food Fair Store. The weather was perfect; it was sunny and bright, and not too hot, but pleasantly warm. With the wind blowing as hard as it was, and with the sun so bright, I felt amazingly free, and excited about setting off on a new adventure. Everything had a magnificently new sparkle to it, right down to the light of bright sunbeams that danced off chrome and the side view mirrors of parked cars.
Instead of the usual penny candy that I usually invested what few pennies I had, I bought a fresh peach from Food Fair's outdoor produce store next door. It seems like it took the longest time before I ate it. Holding it in my hands, feeling its fuzzy skin and smelling the fresh and tart beauty that emanated from the fruit, was just too blissful a feeling to disturb. That summer peach was more precious in the keeping-at least for awhile-than in the eating. Even to this day when I smell a fresh peach, that day in 1964 is where I am immediately transported.
On the radio that morning "We'll Sing in the Sunshine" by Gail Garnett had been playing, and was still reverberating in my brain. In fact, my whole mental state was clear like a background slate in my mind for the day to write upon. I eventually did eat the peach, and its taste even surpassed its physical wonder, and the whole idea that fruit and vegetables sprung from the ground so naturally, amazed me.
A Summer Sojourn
Pat was going to trade some engine parts for a bunch of lawnmower wheels that we could all make homemade go karts with. Although we lived on a gravel street, the end of the block was paved, so it would be perfect for pushing each other in our homemade vehicles.
We ventured across Powell Blvd. to his friend's house. They lived up a steep hill, and their lot was probably a couple of acres of almost completely forested land. A series of labyrinthine trails wound around, and intersected through the lot. This was where they rode their mini-bikes. I couldn't believe how fantastic this place was! How incredible it must have been to live in a place like this with all of these trails and trees and bushes. I spent the whole time running along the winding paths like a madman, lost in an adventurous woodland.
I ran uphill, downhill, along tight curves, and the trails seemed endless! I can't describe how wonderful the feeling was, and how I wished I could be playing army up there with my friends chasing and tracking each along the winding ruts. Eventually I reached the top of the acreage that looked out over Powell Blvd like an aerial photograph. It was a magnificent view from the top, almost like looking out from the neighboring Kelly Butte (a trip I only made once with Pat and some neighbor kids).
The day felt free, and I pretended to be playing army, chasing, and running from the Germans through these beatific trails that wound their way through an untended woodland. Though it would have been nice to have somebody to play with, and share the experience, just being out in that bit of wilderness felt fantastic. Hanging leaves from trees provided dark and shady spots that only added more mystery and allure to an already perfect place. These trails were indeed a wonderland.
The Day of the Kites
I often think about the age I am now, and think about how exhausted I would be if I had to fit all of this stuff into one day! But that was just it; when we were kids, we couldn't fit enough things into one day. On this beautiful and windy day, which I can feel and remember right now as I write, my brother Pat, a bunch of kids on the block and myself decided to trek over to Irwin's Grocery on Holgate to buy some fifteen-cent paper kites. Normally we'd all go to Food Fair, but for some reason that I can't remember now, we had to go to Irwin's instead. Perhaps Food Fair didn't carry kites.
The paper kites cost fifteen cents, and the plastic, sturdier-and very popular kites-cost twenty-five cents. I only had enough money for a paper kite and a ball of string. After a fun-filled morning of buying a peach, and hiking all the way up to Pat's friend's house, and running forever along those marvelous trails, I'd already had a spectacular day that was now getting better. I reached down into my dust-covered jeans and pulled out a dime, a nickel and five pennies to plunk down onto Irwin's wooden counter. The kites came rolled up on their sticks. It was fun to unravel them, spread 'em out, and hook the threaded loops onto the grooves of the kite sticks. Once that was done, I was ready for action.
It was a marvelous feeling to be out on that huge expanse of field behind Barlow Elementary School for a great day of kite flying. There were perhaps ten, or more of us kids out there, and I felt like I belonged to some sort of army or other magnificent installation as we launched a massive aerial strike upon the sky with our kites. How magnificent it was to run with the wind, and feel the tug of resistance as the kite finally took to the air. I used to get a bit dizzy staring at my kite once it was far up into the sky. That blue ceiling with white popcorn clouds and occasional contrails from jets and planes seemed like it was too large to focus on a singular object without losing touch with the ground.
It felt fantastic being a part of something as utterly magnificent as the sky. I was tethered to the earth by a thin piece of string and balanced by my kite. I had control of something that seemed to be dangling just at the outer edges of space. By the time we were finished, and it was time to reel our kites back in, it was a great feeling to see my kite coming closer and closer to me. Dancing, spinning, and twisting, the kite almost spoke tales of having danced on the fringes of the great beyond. By the time my kite reached a distance of the nearby telephone poles, it was more manageable. The world that felt so fantastic and epic and limitless, was now a return to reality.
All said and done, there was nothing like flying a kite, especially with such a large group of kids. That day in 1964 was a magnificent time spent. It was an excursion of unbridled youth, and an expression of passion and joy being one with the day, and spending time with friends. For twenty cents I had an excellent time, and invested in a lifetime of memories of better days.
Learning to Ride a Bicycle
My first adventure on a bicycle happened on that same day. Pat taught me how to ride a bike; not just any bike, but a much larger than I, Schwinn bicycle. The idea of it scared me; it was far too big, and I'd had no two-wheel experience to speak of save for what few trips I'd made on a neighbor boy's old metal scooter. The scooter was easy since one foot was so close to the ground that there was absolutely no way to get hurt.
Pat hoisted me up on the gigantic monster bike and stood next to me balancing me. My feet barely reached the pedals, but they did reach. Everything felt wobbly, out of kilter, and off balance. When I'd finally readied myself for bicycle battle, Pat began to run next to me ordering me to pedal. The first time I fell over hitting the gravel hard. I didn't care how many times I fell, I just knew that I had to conquer it and make that giant leap toward two-wheeled freedom. We tried again, and on the second try, I was riding the thing! It felt great to have such command over a much larger object. I could imagine driving a car to be the only feeling to equal it.
The gravel, and ultimately, the asphalt at the end of our road, spoke to me with an odd vibration of movement. The wind on my face, and the feeling of fast movement was incredible. Seeing the trees and houses whiz past was indescribable for a first-time rider! It felt good to lean into turns while picking up enough confidence to start pedaling harder, traveling at tremendous amounts of speed.
By afternoon, riding a bike felt as natural as breathing. Challenges soon started to come my way such as taking turns at faster speeds, and trying to outrun some of the nastier dogs in the area. (The dogs, by the way, provided plenty of incentive to pedal as if my life depended on it.)
My love affair with bikes began the first moment I was upright and moving. Powered by my own legs and sense of balance, I was riding anything with two wheels. Learning to ride a bike was just one of those unforgettable moments.