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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Sugar Bowl

My husband is a pretty good writer. This is one of his short stories based on a memory from his childhood.

The word was out that a bicycle race would take place on Saturday at one o’clock just after lunch. The race would held at the “sugar bowl” which was located at the end of Phifer Drive.

Phifer Drive was a long street located in the Beaumont mill village. The mill was constructed in the eighteen hundreds and as it grew so did the neighborhood. Since the majority of workers came from rural farming areas, the mill saw a need to get the much needed work force closer to their jobs. So they started building houses within walking distance to the mill. Thus the name “mill village” emerged.

The sugar bowl was at the end of the street. It started at a busy highway and ended at a three hundred and sixty degree circle. No one knew how it came to be called that, but it provided us with the perfect racetrack.

Thursday before the race, I went to see my friend , Roger “Ramjet” Gasney, who lived one block over from my house. He had got the name “Ramjet” from a cartoon character of the same name. He was a tall skinny kid whose two front teeth were missing. He always wore a shirt with the sleeves missing and a pair of tennis shoe handed down from an older brother, which made a squeaking sound when he walked because of being several sizes too large.

“Hey Ramjet, Are you going to the race on Saturday?” I shouted. “Sure am” was his reply. “I’ll be riding my new bike too.” New bike? Where did he get the money for a new bike? This kid couldn’t afford a pair of shoes that fit much less a new bicycle. Ramjet went on to explain that he had mowed “Old Lady Johnstone’s” yard and she had paid him two dollars. He then went to see our friend Bobby, who was the wheeler and dealer of the neighborhood and made his purchase. I later found out that the bike had been thrown into the dump and Bobby, being the enterprising person that he was, saw the potential for a quick buck. I went to the back of the house to see Ramjet’s prize. He was grinning from ear to ear with his tongue stuck through the space where two teeth used to be. “Wow!” I exclaimed, “It certainly is green.” “Yeah and I painted it myself” was his reply. He had painted the entire bike some shade of green that Bobby had included in the purchase. Probably found it at the dump also. The only thing that was not green was the back tire, that’s because it didn’t have one. Only the rim remained. Ramjet went on to explain that the deal did not include a tire because the bike was bought as is but Bobby just happened to have one that would fit for a dollar more. Not having the cash, Ramjet took the bike anyway. He would still ride it in the race minus the tire and besides, the special effects were great when watching him speed down the street and apply the brakes hard. This caused the metal rim to emit sparks as it slid along the concrete pavement.

Saturday finally arrived and the neighborhood kids showed for the big event. There was William Brice who had gotten a sporty new bike for Christmas. It had brake levers on the handle bars and an actual stick shift that would shift the drive chain to three different gear positions. There were the Lansay brothers who attached cardboard with clothes pins to the front fender brace so that when the spokes made contact with the cardboard, it sounded like a gas engine. It didn’t give them any advantage, but the sounds that they made were awesome. All of the kids had been busy preparing for the big event. Even I had secret grease on my wheels and chain to go faster. I thought it was an ingenious idea except for the fact that it permanently stained my pant leg when it came in contact with chain.

Everyone lined up for the event and awaited the start signal. Once under way there was a frenzy of kids peddling as fast as their legs would allow. William Bruce took the lead after shifting into third gear. The first casualty came when “Shorty” Finnley swung out wide and went over the curb. Shortie’s bike was actually taller than he was. He had to stand up to peddle because his legs weren’t long enough to permit him to sit and peddle. My plan was to just lay back and pace myself until everyone else began to tire. Then I would make my move.

Everything was going as planned when suddenly the unthinkable happened. Ramject was in front of me with the tireless bike. He suddenly lost traction and spun in front of me. I swerved hard to avoid hitting him but lost control, jumped the curb, knocked down the Poteats fence and landed in their prize winning rose garden. The race came to an abrupt halt and bikes went in all directions when Mrs. Poteat came running out of the front door yelling obscenities while swinging a large broom. I picked up my bike and was out of there in the blink of an eye.

Our racing careers didn’t end that day. We did go back eventually, always careful to avoid the Poteats by making sure that they were not home when we held our races. Our plan was ingenious. First we would pick someone to scout the home. Their job was to check the driveway to see if the car was home. For extra protection, we would call the house. If no answer… the race was on! The plan worked and we spent many Saturdays riding our bikes around the sugar bowl. No one ever crashed the fence again although there were numerous scrapes and bruises. Mrs. Poteat never found out.

-by Stan Harris

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