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Mama would be upset if she knew I was carrying a grudge.
But no matter how I tried, my first impression of someone was stuck in gear.
Good things were coming to an end.
The D. Reece Williams home next door was being renovated into four apartments.
Boy, I sure had fun watching all the tearing down and rebuilding. Plus, all that scrap stuff and lumber the carpenters left behind for me was pretty handy. I kept a lot of it to use for my upcoming construction projects.
I dropped what I was doing the day Mr. Lambert’s blue Chevrolet moving van pulled up next door. I ran over to the hedge row and hunched down out of view to see what was going on.
When the van doors swung open, so did my mouth.
I was looking at three, almost-brand new bicycles.
Bless Pete, that started my feelings of ill will.
All I could think about was all the trouble and effort me and Aunt Bess put into buying a brand new J.C. Higgins deluxe Ridemaster bicycle from Sears Roebuck and Co.
All that work was for nothing.
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the government flat froze all unnecessary purchases for the war effort. That included Ridemasters.
I was stunned by what I was looking at in the back of that moving van. One of the bikes looked just like a picture inside the Sears’ Fall and Winter catalog.
I was boiling inside. Our new neighbors are probably spies, I thought. They got my bicycle through espionage or the black market. I wonder where they’re really from.
I ran inside and told Mama about our new neighbors. She brushed off my spy theory and started fixing a banana pudding to take to our new neighbors.
If that wasn’t bad enough, she made me go with her to meet them.
One boy, John, was about my size. However, thanks to a bad case of the bicycle envy, I had already decided not to like him.
Seems they weren’t strangers to Lancaster. The family patriarch was boss of an insurance company upstairs over Fred W. Vaughn’s office.
They moved to Chesterfield Avenue because the new apartment was nicer and bigger.
John had been going to school at Central. His folks planned to keep him there, even though they only lived a couple doors from down Chesterfield Grammar School.
That suits me just fine, I thought. I didn’t want to be in school with him anyway.
Let me tell you, my mind was made up. I didn’t visit John or play with him at all.
One afternoon, John and his mama and daddy rode their shiny bicycles right down in front of our house on “my” sidewalk.
I wanted to yell, “Show-offs” at the top of my lungs as they peddled by.
Thanks to a Japanese strike force called “Operation Z,” all I had was a little scooter that I was outgrowing by the day.
It wasn’t long before John was standing in our yard. All it took was some of the fellas stopping by to play.
Mama was pretty smart. I never mentioned what was going on, but she kinda figured it out and gave me one of her Sunday School-flavored stories about loving our neighbors, being friends and that kind of stuff.
But, it didn’t sink in one bit.
John not only had a new bicycle, he also had an answer to everything. It seems, at least according to him, he had been everywhere and seen everything. No matter what came up, John was an expert and began telling me and my good buddies when we were wrong.
But that was OK. We had a good laugh when John tried to repair a bicycle tube. He didn’t know squat about his shiny, almost-new bicycle. He didn’t have any tools and didn’t know that only left-handed wrenches could be used to take off bicycle wheels.
No sir, I didn’t like John and made fun of him whenever I could. I thought it was pretty funny and it was, until Daddy came home.
Daddy saw John struggling with that flat bicycle tire and helped him get it off the rim and repaired. I couldn’t believe that my very own daddy was helping him.
Oh well, that’s another strike against John, I thought.
Time marches on just like a picture show newsreel.
John continued to be an expert on stuff. We got used to most of it, but he was still a thorn in my side.
One nice, warm Saturday morning, the fellas decided to choose up sides and play Army, but John didn’t want to play.
We were about to learn that war wasn’t a game to him.
Until that day, none of us knew John was Jewish.
Our knowledge about that faith was that Jesus was Jewish. We knew that from Sunday school.
John told us that his grandparents had been persecuted and killed by the Germans in Poland. We were quiet as John shared stories about his family with us. He was an expert on the subject.
What was happening in Europe to people like John’s grandparents wasn’t a pretend game. John’s stories about real war stuff reminded us of that. Suddenly poking fun at John wasn’t funny. I was ashamed of what I had, and had not, done.
That day, the war came to Chesterfield Avenue and I’ve never forgotten it, either. A shiny bicycle just didn’t seem to be that big of a deal.
We changed our opinion of John and he became one of the fellas. But just as we were adjusting to him and he was adjusting to us, that blue moving van showed up.
John and his family were moving away, up North somewhere.
Very soon, John was only a memory of a boyhood friend, who became so after we learned the whole story.
You know, there are plenty of “Johns” out there who try to educate us on real stuff if we will just listen.
I’ll do my best to be more tolerant of what I don’t know or understand. You need to help by feeding me in smaller doses.