A new writer for [Geeks Are Sexy] who goes by JDO began a discussion about that one special geeky gift you remember from your childhood. When I was a kid back in the ’60s, we didn’t have all the cool gadgets that kids covet these days. A telescope, microscope, chemistry set, or walkie talkies were about as geeky as it got (all of which I received as gifts at one time or another). There was this one thing, though, that all my friends seemed to have when I was ten. It was so cool, and I really wanted one. But it was also quite expensive, and our family didn’t have much money. I didn’t dare ask for one, but I couldn’t help letting my desire for it be known.
My Dad always trained me to come when he called, without delay and without asking any questions. He drilled it into my head that if I hesitated and it turned out to be an emergency, someone could lose their life. The only legitimate response would be “Yes, sir!” uttered while complying. So one day when he said to me, “Come on, Son,” I followed him up the cinderblock steps from our house to our driveway at the top of the hill. He kept a large stack of lumber there, with which he had originally intended to fulfill my mother’s dream of a wrap-around deck for our house. But the deck never materialized. Instead, we stole pieces of this lumber for various projects over the years — a chicken coop here, rebuilding a staircase there — and I expected this day to begin with yet another such project.
As I reached the top of the stairs, I saw something in the driveway. Confusion and disbelief made it almost invisible — I had to blink twice to see it properly: a “Lil Indian” minibike, much like the one pictured at the bottom of this post. My face must have faithfully reproduced my shock and joy, because Dad laughed so hard that his cigarette fell out of his mouth.
I imagine that Dad got the bike for a good price. He knew everyone in our little town, and he knew how to call old favors to remembrance. But it meant a lot to me, much more than the bike itself, that Dad had gone to that trouble just to fulfill my wish.
Dad often supervised when my sister and I took turns riding the bike, especially at first. He’d take his turn, too. His 6’2″ lanky frame looked comical perched on the tiny bike, with his long legs sticking out on either side like a grasshopper. He’d reach underneath the seat and open the governor (a simple device on top of the engine that prevented the throttle from being opened past a certain point) so the little bike could exceed its usual top speed of about 40 MPH, and he taught us how to do the same. Dad seemed to enjoy this thwarting of authority. He despised all measures designed to protect people from their own behavior. Of course, we never wore a helmet or pads of any sort, and nobody got killed or even seriously maimed.
Our riding opportunities opened up when the Highway Department began building the US 29 bypass around the town of Gretna. The bypass began about a half mile before our house. They demolished the bridge and culvert over White Thorn Creek on the original highway just below our house, but they left about a quarter mile of pavement leading down to it intact for weeks before they began to lay the new grade. A couple of the neighbor kids would come over and we’d all take turns riding up and down that stretch.
The bridge demolition left so much debris that my sister and I could write things in it, and being pre-teens meant that we felt compelled to do so as impolitely as we dared. One day, I wrote something about my sister, then called her over to see. I planned to escape on the minibike as soon as her anger erupted. This seemed to work perfectly. She called out something offensive after me, and I looked over my shoulder to see her face while racing up the hill at full throttle. I hit a piece of debris in the old roadway and found myself under the bike. It wasn’t very heavy, but the muffler burned a nice patch on my thigh (I was wearing shorts), and a good chunk of meat was missing from my knee. I still have the scar on my knee, although it’s hard to make it out now forty years later. The Lil Indian sustained no damage.
After the Highway Department laid the grade and before they started paving, we could ride the minibike for miles on the grade all the way around Gretna and back. And after they built an access road for us, we could ride that for half a mile in each direction. I don’t remember in what manner we retired the Lil Indian from service. I only remember all the fun we had riding it, and that Dad enjoyed it as much as anyone.