Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Richard Straw: Background Story, or Would You Like Prose with That Haiku?

old red Schwinn
abandoned in weeds―
outburst of rain

The "old red Schwinn" poem was written on May 23, 1988. I was probably smoking a Marlboro Light at the time and resting my haiku notebook on my knee as I sat on the front porch steps of my first owned home in North Carolina. I was keeping an eye on my first child, who was 2 years old then. She was in front of me in her stroller and waiting to be pushed around the block again, a ritual we performed each night when I got home from work. I must have seen some neighborhood boy race his bike on the downhill straightaway that was the street in front of our house. Back then, seeing any bicyclist triggered daydreams about my old bike.

As a teenager in central Ohio, I'd sold Christmas card "subscriptions" door to door one summer to save enough money to help my parents buy the Schwinn for me (we went "halfsies"). Later, after I earned more money doing some gardening for a widow who lived near us, I hung matching wire baskets over its rear tire, a combination speedometer and odometer on its handlebars, and a rearview mirror near its left grip. I rode my Schwinn out to a quarry past the county fairgrounds to the north and to the basketball courts and baseball diamonds at all of the city parks, many of which were named after U.S. Presidents who had died in office―Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy. And of course, I often rode downtown to the Goodwill Store near the Episcopal Church so I could browse in its 10 cent bookracks, or I'd head for the cigar store in the shadow of the courthouse so I could leaf through the newest comic books (and peek at the girlie mag displays). Later, I'd bike to the Carnegie Public Library next to my parents' Baptist church where I "discovered" Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass one fateful summer afternoon.

The bike and I were inseparable until I loaned it to a friend to ride one summer morning. He said he needed to borrow it so he could go swimming with some other friends at a reservoir about 10 miles or so south of town. However, he abandoned the bike in a ditch after he ran over a nail and got a flat tire. And he neglected to tell me what happened until much later, too late for my dad and me to go out to find it.

The photograph was taken by my mom at the start of my one-and-only overnight bike hike in the mid-1960s. Our Boy Scout troop met on Monday evenings in the basement of a Methodist church downtown. One year, the scoutmaster decided we were old enough for a bike hike. So, we pedaled out of town about 10 miles to a small roadside park next to an abandoned electric power plant near a river, just 2 miles north from the village where my family lived in the early 1950s.


I seem to remember that my dad had to drive out with a replacement chain or tire for my bike at the halfway point of the hike. He may even have driven me to the roadside park with my repaired bike in the trunk of his Impala because the rest of the troop had gone ahead without me.


The power plant had a spooky, brick smokestack taller than anything else for miles around. Years later, when I read from William Blake's "Jerusalem," the line that goes "among these dark Satanic mills" made me remember that old building and its gloomy outbuildings encircled by barbwire and "Keep Out" signs. Looking up from a marshmallow browned by that long-dead campfire in the mid-1960s, I prayed that the oak woods wouldn't catch fire.


by Richard Straw

Cary, North Carolina

1 comment:

bandit said...

A 26 inch Schwinn; akin to a Cadillac Fleetwood.