03 August 2013

The Kindness Of Strangers

I'm not sure how old I am for this story.  

But I could ride a bike so I must have been six or seven years old.  We lived on Seventy-Seventh and Holgate and it was summer and hot and cloudless and I was headed for the local swimming pool.  That pool was located in the confines of Mt. Scott Park.  

If anyone has seen the Movie, SANDLOT, you'll know what my neighborhood pool looked like.   It seems there are thousand of these pools scattered all over the United States and they all look the same and they were all built around the same time.  Municipalities must have used the same architect to save money.

I wrapped my swimming trunks in a towel and jammed the whole package between the top rails of my bike and informed my mom where I was headed and shoved off.  The Mt. Scott pool was on Harold Street between 74th and 72nd streets, so I had to travel west only four blocks, but it was the south part of the journey that was the longest, and I had to cross a semi-busy street: Foster.

This didn't concern parents in the Fifties.  A eight year-old boy could take off on his own, travel a quarter mile from his home and spend the whole day at the swimming pool or the park and nobody worried.  The biggest danger was from automobiles, and I was rigorously trained to look both ways and to get off my bike and walk it across busy streets.  Heck, I ran it across busy streets.  

I was ziggging west and then zagging south for a few blocks and then I'd zig again.  I remember I was travelling south on a concrete street with rounded curbs and I decided to jump the curb onto the sidewalk.  I'd done this before, but this time I came in at too oblique an angle and the front wheel kicked and I went down all tangled up in my bike.  I suppose I scraped my hands and probably my starboard knee, but I don't recall.  I just sat up feeling dazed and embarrassed and starting to feel the hurt.  

The street was actually an avenue because it ran north and south, and it was in a neighborhood full of little houses.  There was no traffic.  I got up and put my hand to my forehead because I felt a sting there and my hand came away all bloody.  I had a cut over my right eyebrow.  Then I felt the back of my head and discovered I was bleeding there, also.  

I was probably crying by this time.  Blood is scary enough for an adult, but to a kid it means you are really hurt. Cuts to the head are the worst because they bleed the most.  This was my first scalp wound but I had a good idea what was happening to me,  

I'd seen my little sister, Anne, bleeding from the scalp.  A neighbor boy hit her with a metal toy rake and I watched from across the street, frozen, as she stumbled home crying,  the whole side of her head covered dark red.  She'd take a few steps and feel her head, pull her gory hand down to look at it and howl even louder.  My mom ran out and gathered her up and took her into the house and cleaned her up.  

Anne was two houses down when she got clobbered.  

I was seven blocks from home but at that moment I was feeling as lost and lonely as if I were on the Moon.  I was standing by the curb that had just bit me, staring at my heap of a bike, dripping great red drops on the hot concrete, but I wasn't thinking I should get it up and mount it and ride home.  I was just thinking I was hurt and wanted my mom.  

It was then that I noticed movement across the street.  The front door of a house was open for ventilation and a woman in a white print dress came out wiping her hands on a dish towel and crossed the street.  She took me by the left hand and led me back to her yard and took me inside.  I was still dripping so she had me lean over an empty playpen in her front room.  She was younger than my mom and had brown hair in a pony tail.  She got my phone number and called the house and pretty soon my mom showed up in the car and took me home.  I didn't go to the doctors.  My mother just cleaned me up like she did Anne and stuck a butterfly band-aid to the cut on my forehead and a gauze pad to the back of my head.  She put Bactine on my scrapes.  Maybe some iodine tincture.  But that would have really stung.  I would have objected to the stingy stuff, but Mom would not have listened.  She would tell me I didn't want to get infected and do it anyway.

The cut on the back of my head was a crescent-shape gouge from the left handlebar.  It whipped around on me as I went down.  The rubber grip end was worn away and slid forward exposing the bare metal tubing.   

I think the woman donated a towel for my head, which my mom cleaned and returned, later.  Or maybe it was my swimming towel.  I don't remember.  

My bike was left where it landed.  We didn't put it in the car.  I'm guessing I walked back and got it in a day or two, when I was feeling better.  I don't remember that, either.  I got some new grips for the handlebars, eventually.

What I like to remember was the young mother coming to the aid of a small bewildered frightened boy and not worrying about the stains on her dress or floor or playpen.      


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