Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Lesson My Father & The Old Bike Taught Me

"Doggy Grin and Wag of Tail"

"On sunny, windy, or cloudy day, 
we went around our youthful way, 
side by side as I grew up, 
he was there to play and jump 
him and I, we were as one, 
Me and my dog Saffron' 

Then one day I went away, 
called to war one summer day. 
So I pat his head, stroked his hair, 
Saying Saffron, "It isn't fair, 
but forget me not when I'm away, 
how we ran and how we played", 
And with doggy grin and wag of tail, 
he said I won't and all was well 

Yes, it was hard to say goodbye, 
To walk away, my childhood die, 
But always there when I came home, 
from to and fro where I roamed, 
with doggy grin and wag of tail, 
was Saffron to make all well. 

Then one night when far away, 
sad of heart in month of May, 
A soldier now, a war to win, 
too much death and too much sin, 
I heard Saffron had up and died, 
Oh, the boy in me would have cried, 
for my Saffron who died that day 

Instead the man sent his soul away, 
through the smoke to the gates of heaven, 
to those I know, my army brethren, 
With a doggy grin and wag of tail, 
To tell them there that all is well."  


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  that this is the time to plant garlic for next summer bloom?
Today is National Pet Memorial Day and we would like to extend our good thoughts to all of you who have lost a special pet. To us, they are like our children, and losing them in our lives is so hard, sometimes it seems insurmountable. But we comfort ourselves with the fact that they are here, always with us and one day, we will be together in heaven.


When I was about 8, we lived in Fullerton, California, about an hour from Los Angeles, in a middle-class nice neighborhood on a suburban cul-de-sac. There were many families with children that lived near, and we all played together.

Being a middle child, you never got anything new. That was just understood. You rejoiced when your older sibling got something neat, because if you were patient enough, it would soon be passed down to you.

Some things couldn't wait, though and I desperately needed a bike. Of course, they were way too expensive new and the problem was my older siblings had long ago given away their bikes for boyfriends and new cars.

So my father and I went to the police auction that was held once a year to sell unclaimed property. I was jumping up and down with excitement and I imagined a beautiful sleek girls bike with sparkle paint and streamers, and thin tires. It would be the perfect size just for me, and for the first time, it was all mine first.

When we got to the auction, there was only one bike left. It was HUGE. It was a boy's bike and had oversized tires, whitewalls, no less. It was rusted and sad. But it was a bike and my Dad saw the potential in it. It was marked twenty dollars and my heart sank- no way could we afford that. The Policeman running the auction took one look at my face and said softly to my father,"Could you do $10?" And I went home with the monster bike.

It became a wonderful project for Dad and I, just-us time. We took the bike completely apart, sandpapered off the rust and painted it sparkly blue. Once back together, we replaced the grips with ones with rainbow streamers, and my brothers clothespinned a playing card on the back wheel so it made an awesome sound when you were sailing along, almost like a real engine. 

The monster was transformed and every time I looked at it, I had to pinch myself that it was all mine. That old bike had a new life and it seemed to glow. Now I had to learn to ride that thing.

It was way too big for me, and I was a small little girl to begin with, but a determined one. I had to be careful because it had the bar on top but if I tilted the bike before I got on it and stood up on the pedals, I was golden.

The first time I took out the bike on the street by myself, one of the neighbor kids, Stephen, was watching me. Everyone was oohing and aahing over the bike. He was a big, robust kid who was head and shoulders taller than any of us...he looked like he belonged in high school, even though he was only 12. He and his strict German immigrant parents lived across the street, but he used to play with us. Unfortunately, he used his size to bully everyone. He marched up to me and grabbed the handlebars. "I want to ride it." he scowled in my face. I gulped but held my ground. This was MY bike. I said, "No, I'm riding it now". He glared at me and then reached over and shoved me off into the street and took the bike. I jumped up and before he could take off with the bike, I punched him. Solidly. In the nose and gave him a bloody nose. He ran screaming for home. Everyone else scattered and I limped home with my bike, which had a few war wounds from the skirmish. I was so sad, and told my Mother what happened. When Dad came home, he looked at the bike, but he never said anything, and I felt like I had ruined all the hard work we had put into it.

We sat down to dinner and there came a knock on the door. My Father got up to answer it and it was Stephen's parents and Stephen from across the street. In a thick German accent, his father angrily demanded that my Father punish me. Dad took a look towards Stephen and noticed he had a black eye. He called me to the door and asked me if I had done that. I nodded miserably. Smugly, Stephen's parents nodded their heads. My Father quietly said, "Your Stephen is quite a big boy to be shoving little girls off their bikes." Stephen's Dad's face colored and he cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Well, yes, and we have punished him. We are here to see that you punish your child as well." My Father, a lifetime Army Soldier, straightened up and looked him right in the eye and said, "What I do with my child is my business." and he shut the door.

He turned, looked at me, winked and said softly, so my Mother wouldn't hear, "And if he does it again, hit him again. I'm proud of you for defending yourself."

In that moment I realized my Dad was behind me, no matter what. He and my Mother never believed in corporal punishment and we were never spanked. And although I was the middle child, my parents loved me, fiercely, protectively and without question. And that it wasn't that I hit someone, but that I defended myself in great odds and took ownership of that. 

That old bike and I had many adventures. He was my trusty steed and carried me to places in my imagination. He was finally retired when we moved into a smaller place and there was no room in the garage to store him. We gave him to another family with lots of middle children, where he could carry them to their next adventure. I never forgot that bike and all it taught me and what a valuable lesson it was. 
POSTSCRIPT: I never saw Stephen again as their family moved soon after when his father was transferred . I heard later in life he became a Police Officer, which is funny, as I did, too.
Lawns & God
 GOD: St. Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there in the USA? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honeybees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.
 ST. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers weeds and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.
 GOD: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?
 ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.
 GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.
 ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week. 
GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?
 ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.
 GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?
 ST. FRANCIS: No, sir -- just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.
 GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away? 
ST. FRANCIS: Yes, sir.
 GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.
 ST. FRANCIS: You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.
 GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stoke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.
 ST. FRANCIS: You'd better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.
 GOD: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?
 ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.
 GOD: And where do they get this mulch?
 ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.
 GOD: Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?
 ST. CATHERINE: Dumb and Dumber, Lord. It's a real stupid movie about ...
 GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.


On today in American history, people in gardens everywhere were talking about:
1776 Congress renames the country "United States of America"
1850 California becomes the 31st state
1893 First and only child born to a President in the White House, Esther Cleveland is born
1919 Boston Police Department goes on strike
1942 Japanese bomb US mainland
1957 Eisenhower signs the first Civil Rights bill since the Reconstruction
1965 Sandy Koufax pitches perfect game
1966 President Johnson signs the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act
1968 Amateur Arthur Ashe wins the US Open in the first year amateurs could compete with professionals
1971 Riot at Attica Prison
1976 Chairman Mao dies
2012 DNC ends; Randy Jackson announces he is leaving American Idol

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Virginia said...

amazing story about the bike and stephen, altho I have heard you tell it have quite a eidetic memory there.

Mary said...

Wonderful story. Ironic about both of you becoming police officers. We had a kid on our street who threw rocks at kids on bikes. I had one of my younger sisters ride down the street and when he threw the rocks, I told her to fall off the bike and lie in the street until the whole neighborhood came out to see what was wrong. Sure enough, the bully's mother was mortified thst the whole neighborhood was watching the results of this, and it never happened again.