I love this place.
The thought trickled through my mind as I pedaled along the side of the road. The air was warm as it passed over my body. The cicadas filled the surrounding countryside with the buzz of joy at being above ground. The flavor of honeysuckle mingled with the explosion of new growth fragrances surrounding me and my Columbia. The warm sun played across my face as I closed my eyes and rested my legs in a glide.
A horn snapped me from my reverie and I jerked the wheel to the right. I bounced along the rutted patch bedside the macadam surface. The car sped past giving me a wide berth. I edged back onto the paved surface, my heart pounding. Daydreaming on a bike is not a good thing. Those cars can kill. A dog barked from behind a fence paralleling the street. I laughed at him, stood on the pedals and push with all my might. My bike and I shot past as I leaned into the rush of warm wind. In the distance I could see the waver of the air above warming tar as the road returned the heat captured into the air around it. It almost looked like a lake.
My buddy’s house was just a few yards up the way. His driveway made a steep climb into his yard which was two feet higher than the paved surface. A car was approaching from the opposite direction but I knew I could make it with just one more hard push. I stood again pumping with all my might and leaned into the turn. Up I went with the blast of a horn where I had been. Seems that driver was going faster than I thought but I escaped whipping up and over the drive entrance onto the grass in front of the house. I dropped my bike on the run to the front steps.
I knocked on the door.
My friend opened it. His smile was broad and I entered. His mother yelled a welcome from the kitchen to me. I looked in and said hi.
“Care for a bite to eat?” she asked. “I was just fixing breakfast.”
“No ma’am. I ate before coming over.”
I sat in the living room reading the latest issue of Superman while they ate. Lois was in trouble, again, and Superman was just about to jump into the air--she was falling, naturally—to catch her mid-fall when R came in wiping his mouth on his sleeve.
“Finished! Ready to go?”
Leaving Lois halfway between the top of the Daily Planet and the sidewalk, I dropped the comic book on the end table. We rushed to the door when R said,
“I got an idea.”
“I got an idea.”
He ran into his room. He carried some clothes pins and a deck of cards on his return.
“We’re gonna ride motorcycles today.”
“Here, take these.” He handed me two playing cards and two clothes pins. I followed him out to the bikes puzzled as to his intent.
“I saw this the other day. Some kids in town were riding around making the motor sound on their bikes. This is how they did it.” He picked up his two-wheeler leaning it on his shoulder. He bent one of the cards along the edge and attached it to the bar holding the fender to the wheel axis. The far end poked into the spokes. He did the same to the back wheel.
He had to show me how to provide enough of the card into the spokes since I folded it in the middle which fell short of the mark.
“OK! Let’s go!” He jumped onto the seat and pushed off with a mighty thrust down on the pedal. His bike made a roaring sound as it flew forward. I looked on in admiration as my face lit up with a grin.
Up, up, and away. I leaned over the handlebars and pumped my legs hard in a clockwise direction. The forward momentum took on speed and the cards in my spokes erupted into a loud roar. I was blasting away when I hit the top of the driveway. A slight jump brought me back to the surface with a clack of fender against body and the thrill of the wind brought out the wonder and excitement of being alive. With a continuous roar my bike slipped from a forty-five degree angle down into the upright of road surface in a matter of seconds. The street was free of traffic and open to the two of us burning up the surface and the air with our noise. A wild “YEEHAH!” escaped my lungs which was answered by another from my buddy who was pedaling with all his might into a twenty mph run with the bursting of cardboard against spoke after spoke after spoke. The reverberations matched the cicadas in volume.
“KEE YA KEE!” I yelled into the wind whipping my cheeks.
“GERONOMO!” came an answering call.
Neither of us waited at the corner. One after the other we whipped out into the road called Stono Shores flying to the right side. There was no traffic, lucky for us, as we sidled up to the edge of the pavement. I gave my legs an extra hard push as I rode up beside R. We traveled, pushing our legs as fast as we could, like lightning. The trees lining the ditch flew past us.
Free on a summer’s morning before the sun beat down like an oven. The air was still fresh with the cool of the night lingering. Yet we could feel the heat promised by the sun’s climb into the arc of noon. But what did that matter to two kids flying down an open road on “motorized” bicycles? We were free! The day was ours! And we pedaled on.
The terrace was a focal point for all of us. The school, RTS—fondly referred to as Rotten Tomato Soup, but in reality was Riverland Terrace School, our grammar school for the first six years we spent in the institution of learning—was the place to meet being centrally located. There was a baseball diamond for those inclined to glove, bat, and ball. There was the playground itself located to the right in a sandy area in the front of the old brick building. The school yard itself was split down the middle by a sidewall leading to the fence that separated the school yard from the street in front. As noted, the playground containing swings, monkey-bars, and see-saws lay to the right of the sidewalk. The yard left of the sidewalk was paved up to the automobile entrance. To the left of this entrance for cars was the basketball court. Beyond that and deeper into the grounds was a tennis court and over to the left of that bicycle racks. The afore mentioned baseball diamond lay to the left of the school building stretching out into the back area which could be used as a football field after baseball season.
We rattled in through the back gate which was wide enough for single file walk through. Our roaring entrance to the yard was noticed by the kids batting a ball at home plate. We pedaled through the sand. It slowed us down immediately. Jumping off our bikes we yelled hello to the batter. Dropping our bikes we ran over to home plate.
“Hey guys!” R was enthusiastic about batting the ball to those in the field awaiting pop flies. “Any chance we can play a game?”
The guy with the bat nodded, “If you two want to play we can choose up sides. We got enough now for four each.”
“Come on in guys! We’re gonna choose up sides.” The boys with gloves ran in toward the plate. “You want to choose?” He spoke to R.
“Yeah, let’s pick our players.” And so it would start. When I was standing alone after the choosing had been done, R finally said, “OK, Rickey, you’re with us.” His reluctance was noticed.
We took to the field, since the bat and ball and gloves belonged to the guys here first.
“Can I borrow your glove?” I asked J. He tossed it underhanded. With fumbling gestures I finally got it under control and headed out.
“You take right field, Rickey,” said R as I ran toward first.
“I thought maybe I’d try first base this ti…,” I said.
“Nah, E will take care of that. You run on out to right field.”
Once again, I was relegated to right field. Nothing ever happened in right field. I usually stood out there watching all the action but never being in the middle of it. Oh well. It was a pretty day. The sun wasn’t too hot yet and the cicadas were loud as they could be. It was the perfect atmosphere to drift away on some fantastical trip known as a day dream which I did immediately. I was in full flight upward into the warm flowing air alongside the Daily Planet eying the distance above where Lois was plummeting to her death. But not this time as I cut through the air screaming upward arms out stretched to catch her midair…
“Rickey!!” Several voices were yelling my name. I snapped out of my day dream, Lois would have to plummet to her death or wait fixed in the air.
“LOOK! UP IN THE AIR! CATCH IT!”
What? What were they screaming about? I looked where they were pointing. It was a pop fly! It was racing towards me! Me! In right field! What do I do!? It was heading straight for me!
As protection I put my glove up to block out the ball. As it happened I placed my glove in such a position that the ball slapped into the leather pocket. My fingers closed automatically trapping it.
“You’re out!” I heard someone near the plate yell.
“I’m out?” I mumbled to myself. Then I realized, the ball was in my glove. I had caught it! What would normally have been a homerun for the batter was an out. Wow! I caught it.
“Great catch, Rickey!” I heard it repeated several times. Some of the kids were running out to slap me on the back. “You done good. J is out. You got him out. He’s ticked.”
Oh, great, I thought. Now I have the star athlete mad at me.
“Come on in fellas. Our time at bat.”
“Come on, Rickey. We get to bat now.”
I tossed the glove to J, who was scowling at me, as I ran to home plate. Everybody was all smiles and slapping me on the back with congratulations. It was a heck of a feeling.
The first three up slammed the ball out to left field. And then it was my turn. R tossed the bat to me. It clattered to the red clay at my feet. I picked it up and whacked it against the side of each shoe like I had seen the players on TV do. At the plate I leaned it against my leg as I stooped to pick up some dirt. I rubbed it into my hands like I had seen so many other kids do, for what reason I hadn’t a clue. Then I hefted it to my shoulder just a couple of inches high. I stood like a coiled spring ready to unleash fury on the hide covered sphere. That was baseball talk which sent my mind on another day dream. I awoke to that hide covered sphere burning across the plate into the catcher’s hand.
“Choke up on the bat!” said the voice behind me. I also heard some groaning and complaining about somebody being the worst baseball player alive but I couldn’t think about that because the pitcher was into his windup. I cocked back ready to let loose the fury of… The ball whistled past into the leather protected hand behind me.
The moaning and groaning behind me grew.
“The bases are loaded. Swing the damned bat!”
Damned? Someone yelled damned in the playground? I lowered the bat and looked behind me. The ball tagged the bat and sailed behind the plate. Stunned I looked down.
“Ball one!” someone yelled.
“You still got a chance! Clobber it!”
Once more my steely eye lit upon the pitcher who was lifting the ball to his glove. He nodded. He wound around and sent the ball flying straight at me. I jumped back.
“Come on, Croucher! Hit the ball!”
“Hell! Just swing the damned bat!”
Once more I heard cursing but refused to give it credence with a glance. Instead my bat, choked to death, rose above my shoulder. My body became a mighty spring once again. I was wound tight. I watched the ball leave the pitcher’s hand. All of a sudden I knew it was mine. The bat left my shoulder slicing through the air. The might of my swing was met with the loudest crack I’ve ever heard. The ball sailed past the second baseman. He missed it since he was staring in shock at me. It bounced into the outfield. The outfielder was daydreaming, which all outfielders had a tendency to do when I was at bat, and missed the ball as it rolled quickly past him.
His team was screaming at him to throw the ball. My team mates were screaming just as loud at me to run. I ran. I hit first and they continued to yell. The guys on second and third had rounded through home plate. The player on the base ahead of me was touching third and headed to home when the outfielder finally realized his team mates were yelling at him. He scrambled for the ball and fell into the sticker bushes that grew wild out there. When he got up and threw the ball I had just touched third. I slowed but everybody at home was yelling for me to run. And I did. The ball was high in the air. My feet were churning up the red clay dirt leaving a trail like fire ablaze in my tracks. The ball caught by gravity arced down. The catcher stood on home plate, mitt in the air waiting patiently. It closed with the glove. I closed with home plate. Neck and neck. I slid. My back pocket ripped away from my jeans. I heard the ball thwap into the glove. At the same time I heard, “SAFE!”
That’s when the argument began. Everybody crowded around the boy who had yelled safe. The scuffing of feet, the waving of hands, curse words fouling the air filled the playground all at once. But the decision had been made. I had been called safe. We had four runs. It was our ball game. And, yet, since it was me that had actually hit the ball, it was a controversial game. I doubt seriously if anybody else remembers that game that summer long ago except me.
Then, again, it may be the game of my left field daydream. Who knows? Memory often takes on a life of its own. That may be the case here.