When I was five we lived in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, at the end of the town, where the farms began. Our house was the last one on the block. Our closest neighbor was Jenny, the cow in the pasture next door. The other kids yelled at her, and some of the boys threw rocks that never quite hit her but came close. Jenny kept her distance from them, but ambled up to the fence when I came over. She was my friend, someone I could tell my secrets to while I stroked her velvet nose. I fed her grass she could perfectly well munch up from the ground for herself, but maybe she liked the feel of my hand as much as I liked the pull of her lips.
We all heard it on the radio: Schwinn was having a contest - any kid under thirteen could send in an original poem. Schwinn would make the winning poem into an advertisement. Sitting on the other side of the fence from Jenny, I worked out my poem - my try for the Schwinn bike - and practiced telling it to her until it sounded just right. She thought I had a good chance.
I printed the lines, and Mom typed them up and addressed the envelope to the Post Office Box where the judges lived. My poem went like this:
I sure would like
A brand new bike
If it’s a Schwinn
I’ll always win.
It took a whole month but finally our mailman delivered a letter from Schwinn addressed to me.
“Congratulations! Your poem has been chosen as our new Schwinn jingle. You have won a 26 inch red Schwinn Hornet. Please have one of your parents call the number below to assure an adult is present when it comes.”
My parents really tried to convince me to ask Schwinn to send a smaller bike. “Let’s look in the Sears catalog and find a little Schwinn that you like, “ Mom said. “How about a 20 inch with training wheels?” Dad said.
“That’s like a tricycle! I won the 26 inch Hornet and that’s the bike I want.”
When the post office truck delivered it, all the kids on the block came to see. The Hornet was shiny red and silver, with a light on the front, and a rack on the back. I was really glad I’d won a Hornet because sometimes I wanted to BE a hornet and sting everybody I was mad at. Ribbons hung from the handlebars. I hadn’t expected them to be quite that high. I hadn’t expected 26 inches to be quite that tall. If my Grandpa had been there, he would have said, “You can do it. Show ‘em your spunk.”
So I gathered up my spunk and strode beside Dad as he walked my Schwinn to the top of our hilly street. “I’ll run along beside you,” he said.
Several grown-ups and teenagers came out to their front lawns to watch us. The younger kids were still waiting at the bottom of the hill.
“Is that the bike you won?” Kenny asked.
“Yep. I’m going to ride it.”
“Don’t you think it’s too big for you?” Mrs. Brownsworth said as Dad and the Hornet and I walked past her house.
“Nope. It’s just right.”
Dad tried to lift me onto the bike. “I can do it!” I insisted. He lowered the kickstand and I stepped one foot on the farthest pedal, put one hand on the handlebar on the same side, stood up on the pedal, put my other hand and foot on the pedal and handlebar closest to my right foot, then lifted it up too. It found the other pedal and I wriggled my bottom up onto the seat.
“Seems like a pretty sturdy kickstand,” Dad said. “Now remember, you pedal backwards to put on the brakes, just like your trike.”
“Okay, I’m going to hold onto the bike as I push away the kickstand with my foot. I’ll be right beside you. Mom is down there by our house, she’ll run toward you if you need her. Don’t let go of the handlebars.”
I didn’t want any more advice. I wanted to fly like a Hornet. I pushed my feet once, maybe twice. No more pedals. I leaned forward over the handlebars, reaching my legs as long as they would go. Where were the pedals?
“Step on the brakes!” Dad yelled. But his voice came from somewhere behind me, not beside me. I didn’t look back to see where he was. I didn’t look for Mom beside our house. I didn’t look at the neighbors. I looked at the fence at the bottom of the hill, the one in front of the pasture. First the kids were standing there, then they were running to one side or another.
I squeezed my eyes shut as I plowed into the fence. I was sure Hornet and I would get tangled in the barbed wire and I’d wreck my bike in front of everybody.
But I cruised right through. I felt stings and slashes on my arms and legs as the fence buckled and broke.
I don’t remember trying to steer. We were still going fast, the Hornet and me, when we rammed into Jenny, the wall that finally stopped us. She staggered, but kept her balance. The Hornet and I collapsed on the ground beside her.
I can’t remember if the bike was repaired. I don’t know if I was hurt; if so, it didn’t require a trip to the doctor. What I remember is the wide-eyed panic on Jenny’s sweet face as she shook her head and ran to the far edge of the pasture.
We were no longer friends. I was just another dangerous kid.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Barbara Ruth is a published photographer, poet, essayist, and fiction writer, as well as memoirist. Her recent photography, memoir, and poetry appears in the current issues of Memoirabilia and Barking Sycamores.