Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.
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.
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.)
When my oldest son was five or six (he turned 49 on August 13), we left the women—his mother and grandmother—in the cave and went to forage for lunch meat and hard rolls at Muller’s delicatessen on Harford Road, in Northeast Baltimore. (Muller’s still has the best German cold cuts and sandwich breads in the city.) Next door to Muller’s is a bar called “Dead Freddie’s.” It’s been there for as long as Muller’s has, but the name has long intrigued me for several reasons. For one thing, I can’t remember if “Dead” was part of its name back in the day. Was it just “Freddie’s” then and, when Freddie (the owner?) died, rather than get rid of what is a fine example of a classic neon, the word “Dead” was added as a dark joke? Or was the word always part of the sign and I just didn’t notice? (If anyone out there knows the history of the bar and/or the sign, please set me straight in the comment section below.)
Anyway, to get to the point of my little story about that day of male bonding, either my son asked to go into the bar or I volunteered to take him. Either way, I thought it was a good idea, so in we went. Once inside I think I bought Shawn an orange soda, in much the same spirit my father used to buy them for me when he took me to bars to keep him company while he drank a few of his “Arrow” brand beers. (The sins of the father really are passed down.) And I clearly remember that I took the opportunity that day to demonstrate to Shawn how the pinball machine worked. In fact, I’m pretty sure he got to shoot a few balls himself. As you and I know, most boys love bright lights, fast-moving objects and noise, so of course he was delighted. And so was I, still being a kid at heart myself. That was it. We two happy guys finished our pinball game and headed back to the home cave with provisions for lunch.
But now comes the sad ending to my little narrative. (Here I feel it’s fair to speak for Shawn, too, because I remember how boys think and feel when it comes to neon and pinball machines.) When we got home, still very excited about our wee adventure, we couldn’t wait to share our delight and high spirits with my wife and her mother. Their reaction was not what we expected. Well, you know what comes next. My wife and her mother were shocked, shocked, that I had exposed the child to the dark and sordid interior of that bar. Their disapproval was clear in their words and the expressions on their faces. And here I won’t speak for Shawn, but personally I felt the morning’s fun feeling exit my soul in much the same way air instantly leaves a pricked balloon.
By Susan Middaugh
I believe in taking public transportation to work instead of driving.
As a card-carrying member of the Sierra Club and the Mountain Club of Maryland, I’d like to say my primary motive is energy conservation. It’s not. I want to save money on gas and parking and to extend the life of Takeshi, my Japanese car, whose odometer has passed the 180,000-mile mark.
There are other advantages I hadn’t anticipated. I love walking down the hill in the morning from my house to the bus stop. Being outside in the fresh air fills my spirit in a way that driving with the windows rolled up or down fails to do. The exercise is healthy and the world seems bigger, with a greater sense of possibility.
The 45-minute bus ride is found time, great for reading the newspaper, daydreaming, or unwinding after a day’s work. Traveling in a 30 mile an hour zone through city streets instead of bebopping down the highway at 65 mph helps me slow down my life, a good thing.
I’ve also made new acquaintances at the bus stop that I never would have met behind the wheel of my car. One of them, a middle-aged man in a baseball cap and a camouflage jacket, asked the driver to wait one day when I was late. My new young friend, Eric, who is in high school, is looking for a part-time job. Forrest, a former nurse, tells me about his interest in archeology. An African-American woman in her 40s describes her life after a stroke. Such conversations help me feel connected to other people in my community.
There have also been some surprises. On a crowded city bus, I’ve seen men of different ages offer their seats to women of other races, women who are old, pregnant, or juggling strollers and young children. These moments of civility have restored my faith in human nature.
Drawbacks to riding instead of driving? Sure. On a good day, riding the bus takes three times longer than it does for me to drive the eight miles to my office. Walking to and from my stop can add up to 40 minutes to my daily commute. If the driver is late, a one-way trip can become a journey. If the bus is early, as sometimes happens, this grandmother runs for it or waits for the next one. If I were punching a clock or had to be at a daycare center by a set time, the unpredictability could be a problem.
Walking up the hill to my house each evening can also be a chore, especially if it’s hot or raining or I’m tired. As a distraction, I listen for the tinkle of wind chimes on my neighbors’ porches, breathe in the cooking smells that float into the street, and wonder what the people in my town are having for dinner.
Overall, I feel fortunate to have a choice of transportation. On days when I want to bag the bus, I drive a few miles to light rail….for the same price. Either way, I feel like I’m turning green, staying fit and saving money.
Copyright © 2009 Susan Middaugh.