It was a street. Not a wide street. They put up signs for parking only on one side. But it was a long street, stretching through four towns, from my corner to Curtis Printing. Long, skinny, and straight. The towns weren’t marked so when you cross from one corner you could be in a different town which was like a different country in those days.
There were enough kids on your own block to keep you busy. We fought in the morning and made up in the afternoon if we needed one more to even the sides for backyard baseball. Football was played between the walks leading from the twin houses to the street. Our street. Not a wide street. My street.
We planned it for days. We’d use our book bags to carry our lunches. We checked each other’s bikes. Pumped up tires, patched inner tubes, tightened seats and straightened handle bars. Check. Everything was in place. We wanted to ride from one end of Elmwood Ave to the other end. Even our moms who said, “Sure, ride all day.” One less kid they had under foot.Through Glenolden, Folcroft, and Sharon Hill before heading back to Norwood. Before then, we didn’t think it was possible.
In the morning I ate two cakes of Shredded Wheat. The big ones, not those little processed things they have today. You’d take the two cakes and crumble them up in your hands so they’d fall into your favorite cereal bowl, the one you got for saving up box tops. Maybe it was Tony the Tiger, maybe you had his spoon too, or maybe your dad used it for a screw driver and it never looked the same since.
We got together in my driveway. Part stone, part tar, it got wide at the back so we rode in circles till everyone was there. Three, maybe four. Maybe Charlie McNeely, maybe Jimmy Disney, maybe Michael Kane. I wish I could say who for sure but memories change, they fade. So, who really knows who was there? I know I was there. Yup.
I’d start on one pedal and push with the other foot until I was going fast enough and throw my leg over the top. My legs weren’t long enough to start from standing still so to stop I’d brake and jump. That explains the worn-down handle grip, bent pedal, and rusty frame. It didn’t matter. It just matted that you could keep up and you could. Leave no man behind started young.
No watches, no phones. GPS? GP what? No gears, no lights, and of course, no helmets. Just fat tires, heavy two wheelers, some with Sting Rays, some with hand-me-downs. Coaster brakes, loose rusty chains and rusty chrome fenders.
The wind in our faces, we passed over the intersection just repaved with macadam. Earlier that summer we broke in that new patch by riding in circles for hours. So smooth, so fresh. But now we were going somewhere. Now we crossed over into Glenolden where the street got wide and turned into cement but it stayed the same Elmwood Ave. By the time we got to Folcroft, I saw my old church and knew we had gone far. But we still weren’t at the end.
A few hills, but none too tough for my seasoned Columbia. Some bikes were bought, most were hand-me-downs. It’s tank tins from my brother’s days, long forsaken, it’s maroon colors long since covered over with layers from spray cans bought at Grants, and baseball cards clipped with clothespins to the forks. They fluttered against the spokes, the noise they made didn’t sound at all like a motor unless you were ten.
You biked everywhere, to Joe’s for candy, to Davis’s for more candy, and to Martel’s for, well, for candy. We biked to practice, to friend’s for a sleep over, and sometimes to school. No bike meant you went nowhere. Parents didn’t shuttle, car pool, or chauffer. Parents worked and kids played—moms at home, dads somewhere else, kids in the street.
It didn’t seem right that a fence would stop our street. But there we stood on the side of the street, staring between the tall fence separating us from the printing company. Before then I thought it would go on forever or even to the Schuylkill River.
When we got to Curtis factory, everyone took off their back packs and opened their lunches. Back then your mom would make you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on bread. Sometimes bologna. That’s what we had, we had bread. It wasn’t white bread, or wheat bread. It was all white bread—we didn’t know there was anything else so it was just bread. And moms didn’t cut the crusts, if a kid didn’t like the crust, he’d tear them off himself. Maybe a snack cake, always an apple or sometimes an orange.
That’s about all that’d fit in a lunch box. A tin square with a thermos with glass liner that’d always break. It had to—it was the rule. Especially when you slid it down the sliding board, or threw your backpack over a fence, lunch box and all. Mine was Bonanza, the TV Western, and had a map of the Ponderosa under the handle. I still haven’t gotten to Carson City yet.
But on this day, we got as far as Sharon Hill, which was far enough for all of us.
No matter how far I’ve gone. No matter about the new friends I made. No matter about the memories I’d make, the people I’d lose, or the one’s I would make. Neither the triumphs or the tragedies. Each one of those so great, so monumental, and so meaningful. I need them all, I miss them all.
But no matter how long it’s been, I still remember the warm summer breeze in my face, the grease on my pant leg from getting it caught in the chain. I remember each house where my friends lived and I remember walking in my house after riding the entire Elmwood Avenue and smelling dinner. No matter what has happened from birth to death—I still remember home.
Andy M Davidson is a Clinical Psychologist who lost his son in a Motorcycle accident. He turned to the Appalachian Trail where he learned how to relate to God, people and himself. “I hope you liked this and I hope you check out my new book, When Sunday Smiled, a true story about tragedy to triumph on the Appalachian Trail at Amazon.com.” https://www.amazon.com/When-Sunday-Smiled-Walking-Through/dp/1948888955/ref=zg_bsnr_4608_39?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=APV49NX2JFVP4PFEVAR8