A Memory

September 1, 2010

Cousin Raymond’s Schwinn

By Jake Jakubuwski

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I learned to tie my shoelaces—probably five or six—but it was my paternal grandfather who taught me how to do it. I do remember that training my fingers to perform the intricate contortions necessary to accomplish the task was stressful. Intellectually, I could envision what my fingers had to do, but making them do it was a whole ‘nother matter. My grandfather—not the most patient person—exhibited enough restraint to spare me bruises and bumps when at first I was unable to make my fingers obey. Then, suddenly (or so it seemed to me), I sat on the floor by Pop’s chair and flawlessly did the job from beginning to end. Pop reached down and, with a gentle tug, untied them. Then I tied them again!

I ran to the stove, where my grandmother was fixing breakfast, plopped down on the floor, and demonstrated my new skill for her approval. As I recall, she grunted something neutral and then, her attention still on her cooking, said: “Where in the world did I put the lard can?” Later, when she sat the plate in front of me, I wolfed down the eggs and toast and jelly, gulped a large glass of milk, and bolted out the door, on the way to my cousin Raymond’s house to show him my new trick. I had eaten so fast that as I ran up the street I burped and snorted at the same time, and had to return to the yard and wash off the front of my shirt at the water pump. In those days (1943-44), I was living with my father’s parents in Glen Burnie, Maryland. We did not have running water. Instead, there were two water pumps and an outhouse. One pump was under the grape arbor behind the house, and the other was upstairs in the “Summer Kitchen.” I used the one under the grape arbor.

Cousin Raymond was four years older than me and had an electric train; he had an air rifle; he could ride a two-wheel bike—God, I envied him! He was so cool. Raymond rode his bike like a pro. He would pedal his Schwinn full-tilt into my yard and throw it down into a sliding stop that would scatter dirt and gravel all over. He also had a real wristwatch with numbers that glowed in the dark. As I said earlier: I was about five then—maybe six. Raymond would have been nine or ten.

On that day, I ran up the back steps at Raymond’s and pushed through the door and into the kitchen where Raymond and my uncle and aunt were having breakfast. I blurted out the news of my recently acquired skill. Raymond was unimpressed. Aunt Sadie told me I did a good job and Uncle Pete gave me a fifty-cent piece. When Raymond was finished eating we went outside and into the wooded lot behind the house where he had his “fort.” Raymond wanted to know if I thought I could learn to ride his bike. Could I? Full of shoelace-tying confidence, I said, “Go get it and I’ll show you!” Raymond wheeled his bike out of the garage and told me that my lesson would cost twenty-five cents. Being fifty-cents flush, I didn’t hesitate—I gave Raymond the half-dollar. He promised to make change later.

Raymond held the bike steady while I got on it. I settled myself on the “saddle” and grasped the handlebars with a death grip. Raymond told me that when he pushed I was to start pedaling. We started down the driveway, Raymond running as he pushed the bike. He yelled: “Pedal! Pedal!” I tried—but I was on a 26” bike with legs that were not yet long enough. So, I had to stand up to pedal. Then pedal I did—frantically. Raymond let go of the bike and I zipped completely across Fourth Avenue, a busy Glen Burnie street. Cousin Raymond was now yelling: “Steer it! Steer it! Pedal! Pedal! Watch out for the curb!” Too late—I bounced over the curb, ran up a slight grassy incline and into Mrs. Sauers’ flower bed, then tilted over in what seemed like slow motion and nose-dived into the lower branches of a fir tree. At that moment Mrs. Sauers chose to come around the corner of the house. She was pretty calm about the flowerbed and seemed more concerned over the scrapes I picked up when I dove into her tree.

Once Raymond and I retrieved the undamaged bike, I was ready for another lesson. He said it would cost me another quarter, so I told him to keep the change from the fifty-cent piece. This time, Raymond decided it would be better if I rode the bike down the street towards our grandfather’s house. Before I know it I’m back on the bike. Raymond pushes me off to a rolling start. I pedal like a madman. The bike begins to fly down the street. I’m going too fast to turn into the yard! Raymond’s yelling: “Hit the brakes! Hit the brakes! Steer! Steer! Hit the brakes!” Unfortunately, Raymond had neglected to tell me where the brakes were or how they worked. The bike picked up speed and began to wobble out of control as I bounced over another curb. Raymond was further behind me now, but I managed to turn a blind corner, only to run into the back of my Uncle Joe’s 1934 Plymouth. No contest. The Plymouth won.

There must have been a lot of hollering. Raymond now yelling: “My bike! My Bike! Look what you did to my bike!” Me screaming in pain as I slid off the hood (Yeah, I went completely over the car) and into the loose gravel that covered the driveway. My Uncle Joe yelled something I couldn’t make out as he ran away from the Plymouth, which he had been washing when I dropped in—unannounced.

After he realized what he thought had happened, Uncle Joe carried me into the house and laid me on the old mohair sofa. Grandma brought a pan of warm water and some clean cloths. She cleaned my cuts and abrasions. Pop came in and demanded to know what was going on. Raymond was still hollering about his bike. Uncle Joe explained that I must have fallen out of a tree.

Grandma tried to shush us all and shoo us out. And, even though I hurt in places that I didn’t even know I had, I was smiling. In the space of only an hour or two I had learned to tie my shoes; ruined a flower bed; nearly destroyed a bike; dented the hood of my Uncle’s car—and lived to tell about it; had been gifted fifty-cents and had spent it on bike-riding lessons. (How well I rode the Schwinn doesn’t matter—I did ride it.) I figure it was worth every penny.

Text Copyright © 2010 Jake Jakubuwski. “Bikers” Photo Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.

Jake Jakubuwski spent nearly two decades as an active locksmith and door service technician. He has been writing physical security related articles since 1991. Seventeen years ago, Jake wrote his first article for the National Locksmith Magazine and has been their technical editor for fifteen years. Pure Jake Learning Seminars©, his nationally conducted classes, are designed for locksmiths and professional door and hardware installers. For more information, click the “Pure Jake” link in the sidebar blogroll and under the “business” label. (The photo at right is Jake at age 12 or thereabouts. To access all of Jake’s adventures as a Baltimore boy growing up back in the 1940s and 1950s, type his name in the sidebar search window and press the button.)



My Obama Trauma

March 17, 2009

By Maria Garriott

There’s no doubt that Barack Obama’s ascent to the presidency is an historic event—finally, after years of second-class status, discrimination, and dismissal, a basketball playerbf194231 has reached the highest office in the land. My Democratic friends are one step shy of hysteria, believing this is the Second Coming, if not of Jesus, than at least of Abraham Lincoln. My Republican friends are so gloomy they make Eeyore look like a Steelers cheerleader.

And except for a few appointee’s unpaid-taxes snafus (and really, it’s so easy to forget to declare a few hundred thousand or so), Obama has had no major missteps. But I’m having a hard time getting used to him in the Oval Office, whether he’s wearing a tailored business suit or really cool gym gear.

He’s younger than me.

How can the president of the United States be my junior? Isn’t the leader of the free world supposed to be a father figure—or, like Dwight Eisenhower or Ronald Reagan, a grandfather figure? Shouldn’t the commander-in-chief be someone you can look up to in a chronological way? Not your kid brother?

How can he be old enough to be president? He was born in 1961, when hula hoops were hot and skateboards had metal wheels. When John Glenn circled the Earth in a capsule the size of a port-a-potty, Barack was spooning in Gerber applesauce. When John F. Kennedy was shot, he toddled around in diapers. (I, on the other hand, was in kindergarten and got to eat in front of the TV and watch the Kennedy funeral, an unprecedented violation of accepted rules of dinner engagement.) When our cities erupted in riots in 1968 after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, assassination, he was seven, and just learning how to button his little bellbottom pants. How can he be old enough to have his finger on the button?

I knew it would come to this. My mother used to intone, “You know you’re getting old when the cops and doctors are younger than you.” I hit that milestone twenty years ago, and I’m still feeling the shock waves. When a cop stops me for a broken tail light or making a left turn that is a tiny bit illegal, I invariably look into his just-started-shaving face and want to say, “Hon, does your mom know where you are?” I remember the first time a gynecologist stopped being my father’s age. I switched doctors.

I got new glasses this week—just for distance and driving at night, but probably the last pair I’ll get without bifocals. “They make me look old,” I lamented. Then I realized that it wasn’t the glasses, but the clarity of corrected vision. There’s a reason retouched photos have that blurry look.
Obama, you’ll note, doesn’t even have to wear glasses.

Now that # 44 has been sworn in, millions of baby boomers—women as well as men, now, thanks to Hillary—look in the mirror every morning and say, “Well, chump, if you had studied harder, and laid off the Bud Light, it could have been you!” Boomers, who aren’t aging gracefully as a demographic, will wake up and smell the latte, and feel the sting of Missed Opportunities.

Still, I wish him well. We need fresh thinking, and someone to galvanize Americans into giving their best to our country. I just hope he brought his hula hoop to the White House.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Garriott.

Maria Gariott tries to find humor everywhere, including in her day job at Johns Hopkins University and her five (count ’em–five) children. In 1980, she and her husband moved into a struggling inner city neighborhood to start a multi-ethnic church. Her memoir A Thousand Resurrections: An Urban Spiritual Journey is what you might get if you cross Seventh Heaven with Homicide or The Wire. A preview chapter, bio, and ordering information are available on her website http://www.athousandresurrections.com, which you can reach by clicking her name in the blogroll link in the sidebar. I met Maria in one of the many writing groups I’ve participated in over the years. (My first such class—I do believe—began and ended before Maria was born.) As you see, she’s a very clever essayist for such a young person and I’m very, very proud to have her on this blog.