When I was thirteen I mowed lawns for a dollar each. We didn't have a mower, so I borrowed an old rusted reel mower from a retired school teacher who went to our church. A reel mower is one of those with blades that spin as you push it – a push mower, no motor. I scrubbed off the rust with solvent and oil and then sharpened each blade by hand with my boy scout whetstone. With my mower, I'd go up and down the streets of base housing, asking people if I could mow their lawns. I was saving money for a bicycle.
The bike I wanted was fifty bucks and I had the money for it in a month. It was a thin-wheeled Schwinn with curled handles. The frame was sky-blue. By autumn I could not only ride that bike with no hands, but I could turn corners and go from street to sidewalk handless as well. I bought an odometer for my bike and I put over thirty miles a day on it.
That bike was freedom – I could go anywhere by myself. I no longer needed to beg rides and I was no longer within shouting distance of home. I could ride through all the neighborhoods, even going around and around the baseball diamonds if I felt like it. Incidentally, Shell Kiminski's back yard was at the end of the left field fence on the first diamond. Shell was the prettiest girl in the 7th grade and despite my begging, my coach wouldn't move me to left field.
So, I rode the streets without hands and often found myself somewhere near the baseball diamonds. Did I mention that the previous Valentine's Day, I'd poured every quarter in my piggy bank into a prize machine just to get the plastic heart ring for Shell? Or that once I got it, I was too shy to give it to her, so I left it on her desk as we were going to lunch? I looked at her hands the rest of the year to see if she was wearing the ring.
This was the late seventies and on a military base, so the fashions were a bit late. Shell Kiminski wore the first tube top I'd ever seen. It was baby blue, the same color as my bike. There she was with her friends in the front yard. She was wearing terry cloth blue hot pants and that matching tube top when I passed her house. I passed, riding my new bike no-handed and Shell – short for Michelle – smiled at me.
Her smile warmed me. I didn't think she knew who I was and she'd never smiled at me before. Between her smile and that tube top, I was in heaven.
So, the car I hit was parked and my trip to heaven was a short flight over the handlebars and smack into the bumper. I was unconscious for several minutes. Think it's embarrassing now? I had to explain this story to gruff combat officer when I applied for Pararescue Special Ops years later, right after basic training. They want to know the incident and circumstances behind every concussion you've had.
I hit face first and cracked my cheekbone. The doctors said that everything would heal fine, but that there'd be some internal scar tissue that'd leave a hard spot in my cheek. The only way to get rid of it would be to do an operation that'd leave a small external scar.
So, I have a dimple. And a memory of a tube top and a smile.
- rick, smiling.