Friday, September 11, 2009

The Dark Ride Home

The football game ended around ten o’clock that night and like most boys eleven or twelve years old, I ran out to the center of the field to play a quick game of “tag” football where there was more tackling than tagging going on. The home team varsity boys were teaming up with the cheerleaders or some of the other girls who were streaming around the gridiron looking to get a ride with someone who was lucky enough to be driving the family car or truck as the case may have been. At any rate they were the older people in school and boys my age were much more interested in running with the ball, tackling someone or in general just laughing with all the gusto of a pre-teen male.
Suddenly, pouring out toward the parking lot to head home, all the adults had abandoned the field. The bright lights that had given enough illumination to play a football game were turned off, leaving the stadium in a darkened state except for a small bevy of lights surrounding the hot dog stand. Some volunteers were there counting the night’s concession money and hauling out the trash.
I was never one to necessarily enjoy darkness because it meant the end of the day and the end of the play. Yelling loudly, all of the boys that had bicycles broke into a dead run, while others who were riding with their parents headed to the parking lot. Their dads were re-playing the game with each other. They were telling how much they enjoyed seeing the star back take off around the end streaking down the sidelines for the game winning score.

Waving our final goodbye to each other we mounted our best means of transportation around the small town. I named my bike “Paint” after a steed belonging to a Saturday cowboy matinee idol. Leaping on the bike, which only had one pedal and a stump of the remnant of what once was the second pedal, I would let out a yell, “Come on ‘Paint’, let’s git where we ain’t.” Pedaling as hard as I could with the one good pedal and deftly lifting the stub into an upward position to push down again, I headed toward town away from the football field. Until recently, we had always lived in town either on the mill village or later in the housing projects, but my father had found a dwelling in the country large enough to house our family and the family of one of my married sisters.
The dirt road that led out to the country where our house was located was nearly seven miles from town. That night the moon was out but, but hiding. It seemed to race from one cloud to another all the way home, rotating bright to dark, hiding and peeking behind the fast moving clouds. The trees on either side of the old rutted dirt road cast an eerie set of shadows. There were lots of strange sounds such as crickets and frogs from the swamps, and an old owl hooting from a dead tree somewhere in the distance. Up ahead, I could hear an alternating sound of a coyote howling the unhappy news of his hunger, and that of a disturbed dog returning his answer with his incessant barking. The more sounds I heard the faster I was able to pedal even with the encumbering stump of what once was a pedal. I found myself looking forward to coasting the long hill downward to the bottom that ran near the branch of water. At the same time I dreaded the uphill battle back to the top. Nevertheless, I pedaled with all my might and asked silently for “Paint” to do his part to get us home to the warm and safe confines that were to be found inside the old house in the country. Finally, huffing and puffing I managed to get home, only to discover the house and all the surroundings were dark. “Whoa, Paint!” I commanded my bike as I coasted up near the front doorsteps. “Daddy? Mother?” I called out in a semi-quiet tone hoping for an answer. None came. There was not even a glimmer of light coming from the house. I cautiously dismounted and eased myself up onto the dark porch, walked with padded feet to where I knew the front door was, and felt through the thickness of the black night. Feeling my way around the door, I was able to locate the cold, ceramic doorknob which, to my disappointment, I found to be locked. Once more I called out, this time louder and perhaps with a touch of desperation in my voice, “Daddy! Mother!” Again there was only the sound of the jungle, er, forest animals and my quiet but labored breathing.

Dashing from the porch and leaping completely over the steps, I crashed to the ground. Rising to my feet immediately, I located the one ally I had …. that being “Paint”. Quickly, I slung my leg over the crossbar and yelled out once more, “Come on Paint let’s git where we aint!”
Back on the old red clay road with ruts, my feet were pedaling, and my legs were pumping as hard as they could until the seven miles were covered in reverse order of a few moments earlier. Finally crossing the old crooked bridge across the muddy river, I turned toward the safety of the mill village anxiously looking for the old 1941 green Ford sedan. After only a short time, I located it in front of the home of friends of my parents. Breathing hard, I knocked sharply on the door and when answered, I asked if my daddy was there. “Yes, he’s here and they are just getting ready to leave.”
“Hey Daddy,” I choked the words out, “I’m gonna ride home with y’all and put “Paint” in the trunk.”


Anonymous said...

"Scaratty Cat"

Shannon said...

I must have inherited the fear... um, I mean dislike of the dark from you. I remember when I was a little girl and needing a midnight trip to the potty, I would ruuuuuun, just as fast as my little girl legs could carry me down that ridiculously long, ridiculously dark hall to the lone bathroom at the way other end of the house.