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Times were tough, but not tough enough for us to give up.
We were doing without a bunch of stuff at our house, but so were all our neighbors here and across the nation.
We had been at war for right at four years.
Some folks griped, but a lot of smart folks on the “Colossus of the South” with Mr. Grady Cole were telling us that things were going to be better than ever. It was about time, I thought.
Ever since Pearl Harbor and my own day of infamy (when Sears, Roebuck and Company canceled my order for a J.C. Higgins bicycle), I knew the war was gonna be messy. That meant folks like me on the home front, were going to feel it.
It got a whole lot worse than an anxious boy missing out a new Christmas bike in 1941.
But things weren’t all that bad on the bicycle front. Somehow, Daddy got his hands on a used bicycle.
Daddy did his best to sand the rust away and apply coats of fresh blue and white paint on her frame.
But those 26-inch balloon tires kinda took away from the look I was hoping for. They were all beaded up on the sides from long storage in the hot sun. I guess I was looking to find something wrong with it.
“You just aren’t very thankful for what you have,” Mama said.
Mama’s stern words dug deep.
Sure, I was right grateful, but if I had gotten that new J.C. Higgins bicycle my heart yearned for, I would’ve been a whole lot more thankful.
Oh well, Mama was right, and deep down I knew it.
You know, I thought, it’s really not that bad to look at. It’s good enough to ride down to the park behind the Pure Oil Station on the corner of Main and Chesterfield and right by the front of T.Y. Williams’ haunted house. It will probably draw a little attention.
That bicycle got through the next few years just fine. I rode it to the Pure Oil Station more than once.
I peddled that direction on Aug. 10, 1945, as fast as I could after hearing a commotion.
Car horns were blowing. Folks were running outside to the sidewalk whopping it up.
“The war’s over, the war’s finally over!” someone shouted.
It seemed like in no time, all of that rationing of stuff was over.
Yes sir, things were looking up. I witnessed it just about it every time I rode that second-hand bicycle downtown.
Folks were looking forward to the arrival of new cars in the local showrooms.
You know, good things don’t always happen overnight, but in 1946, those shiny, new models came rolling down Main Street.
America was on the move again and the good stuff like cars and Kelvinators weren’t just limited to grown-ups. It was trickling down to us, too.
Crawford Billings, World War I Marine, long-time town fire chief and later mayor, had a Western Auto right next to Pierce Horton’s Mackey Drug on Main Street.
Mr. Billings wasted no time in filling his empty shelves and bins with inner tubes for cars and bicycles. Somehow, he managed to get a rather large shipment of new tires.
Best of all was the good things coming in for the bicycle trade. Almost daily, chrome replacement fenders, chain guards, luggage racks, battery horns and boxes of New Departure Brakes showed up.
Why, he even had some of those brand new Western-style handle bars with the fancy handle grips.
Boys my age were eager customers and went to work to make our window-shopping dreams come true. We took on all sorts of jobs to earn money.
I was luckier than most.
Aunt Bess, my mentor during months of rummage sales before Pearl Harbor, took notice of my new-found work ethic and chipped in some folding money. Away I dashed through the doors of Western Auto, where I was greeted by Billings’ wide smile.
“Son, can I help you?” he said.
Bless Pete, he sure could. In no time, I was out the door almost as quick as I ran in. I happily left the store with a set of shiny chrome fenders, a chrome luggage rack (with matching chain guard) and a set of those newfangled handle bars.
I lugged all that stuff home and gently stowed it in the plunder house for safekeeping before heading back to town. I wasn’t done.
Mr. Bucklelew’s dime store had the very best Chinese red paint in these parts. I had made up my mind repaint my bike from blue and white to Chinese Red and white.
Boy, I hardly sleep a wink that night.
Visions of my sooper-dooper made-over bicycle had me tossing and turning. I had to figure out what to do first.
I knew I was going to get rid of those awful old tires.
That was a little bittersweet, though. As bad as the tires looked, they had carried me through almost three years of riding.
I think I’ll hang them up on a nail in the plunder house, just in case I need a spare.
The next few days, I removed most of the parts, leaving only the bare bicycle frame. My hard work caught Daddy’s attention, too.
He carried the frame to a fella who removed all of the old gunk and paint from the frame and cleaned it down to bare metal.
In no time at all, that frame was covered with a coat of shiny Chinese Red dime store paint. After a day or so of drying, I started putting her back together.
That Saturday morning, I brought it around to the front yard and showed it off to Mama and Aunt Bess.
It was truly a thing of beauty.
“Now, all you need is a basket,” Mama said. “That way, you can pick up groceries for me.”
Imagine that, a shiny-new secondhand bicycle parked right along those shiny new cars at the grocery store.
Bless Pete, things certain are getting better.
We have tough days that don’t give us many reasons to smile. But then, things turn around like a bicycle wheel, making us forget the bad times.
By the way, I never got a brand new bicycle.
I got something better; with the help of Mr. Billings and a little elbow grease, I turned a pig ear into a silk purse.