It's snowing like crazy outside and I feel antsy...so, I thought I'd post an excerpt from something I started and haven't had the gumption to continue. The setting is 1969. A grown man's recollection of a pivotal summer...a coming of age story...
I skid out of our driveway, carefully calculating the lean of my stingray bike with its brand new banana seat. It was truly impressive. Back in the ticky-tacky development where we lived, it was the coolest bike on the block. And the best feature was the caliper brakes. I installed them myself. Everyone knew me as the go-to bike man—okay, boy, but the fact was, I could take any piece-of-crap bike and give it a complete makeover. Paint job, included. Since there weren’t any real hills in our neighborhood, only a square grid of asphalt, I couldn’t wait to give it a spin on the inclines and declines of the dirt roads around the lake.
Taking a left turn onto the road, I peddled the easy slope downward. I think I’d probably grown too big for the bike which made the whole contraption top-heavy and sent me reeling side to side with each pedal thrust. Before the steep drop-off, I locked up the back brake, shooting a gravel fishtail behind as I ‘J’ skidded to a halt. To my best calculation, I had a quarter mile of gradual ascent until the road peaked-out in front of our camp. If I gained enough speed, I could get a little air as I headed into the hairpin curve beyond our driveway, and then down toward Whispering Narrows. Sure it was risky, but I had been imagining that moment of triumph for months, envisioning myself as Evel Knievel.
I’m sure it would have been just as I imagined, except as I breached the curve, (and I did indeed gain some air) then landed and righted myself, Doc’s Land Rover came out of nowhere. I hit both brakes, skidding into his front tire. It was more of a scrape than a collision, but it disabled my chain as I careened off to the side of the road. We both came to a halt.
His head lunged from the window as his voice thundered, “Jeeze, kid, you all right?”
I brushed gravel from my leg with one skinned hand, and gripped the handle bar with the other. I panted, “Yeah, I’m fine—no biggy.”
“You ought to take it easy on that curve, you know.” His bushy white brows furrowed as his fingers raked a shock of silver hair.
Awaiting his rebuke, I quickly replied, “Yes, sir, I’ll be more careful. I didn’t hurt your car, did I?”
He cocked his head and exhaled a chuckle. “I’d be more concerned with your bike, if I were you.”
I glanced at it and nudged the slack chain with my sneaker. “I think that’s the worst of it—I can fix it easy.”
I didn’t know if I should read his squint as disbelief or approval.
“Oh yeah—” my voice pitched a curve. “I fix all sorts of stuff.”
“Is that right?”
“Yeah, bikes and all kinds of other mechanical crap—I mean, stuff, sir.”
“Mechanical, eh? Like what?”
“Lawn mowers,” I said, and then thought of something even more impressive. “And I fixed a clock that I bought at a yard sale—with gears, and everything.”
“A clock, did you?”
This time I detected a distinct glint of approval. “Yes sir.”
“You’re the lad from the camp on the crest, aren’t you.”
“You have a name, don’t you?”
“Yes sir.” I tried to keep my face from cracking a too-eager smile. “I’m Benjamin Hughes.”
He extended his meaty hand from inside his truck and enveloped mine like a baseball mitt. I squeezed back with all I had; a tiny mouse in a steel trap.
One corner of his mouth curled. “That’s quite a grip you’ve got.”
My ears flashed hot, and I nodded my modest best.
“I’m Doc Burns.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, suddenly aware of how often I had uttered the word ‘sir’ in the past two minutes. “I know.”
He winked. “You come on by my house tomorrow morning. I’ve got an old clock that my brother-in-law gave me, years ago—never liked the thing. Piece of junk as far as I’m concerned. But if you can fix it, you can have it.”
I could feel my jaw drop, but nothing came out. I needed to reply with something clever—something memorable, something that didn’t include the word sir, but all I could come up with was, “Gosh, sir, I don’t know what to say, sir.”
“Don’t say a thing, just come by before noon, ‘cause I’ve got an appointment after that.”
Again, my ears flamed. “Yes sir.”
“Will that be okay with your parents?”
“Oh, yes, sir,” I lied.
“Okay, then. You sure you’re okay?”
Gravel still clung to my bloody knee. “Yeah—I get these all the time. Thank you sir.”
As he drove away, I knew that I had just met the most formidable man alive.