Remember the thrill of a bike ride with a mission? My best friend, Cindy, and I were talking about how great she felt when her Grandpa Sigler sent her to Bodager Hardware to get him a specific item.
For her, this entailed the long journey of about 300 yards up the hill, yet it felt like she’d been sent into the world of business with an important job to do. Cindy and I both recalled how we would often pick something up for our parents or grandparents without a red cent in our pocket.
There was a loyalty and a trust that ran strong. Each was trying hard to make a living, and would never think of beating a guy out of a dime. And the hardware store on the corner of our little town had just about every possible thing a guy could need.
“Did ya bring me the old one?” Denny Austen would ask. After peering at a broken hitch pin or a badly bent thingamajig, Denny would say, “Yep, I know right where to look.” He would descend the creaky steps to the basement of that grand old store, and when he came back up, he nearly always had what was needed.
Cindy said it made her feel useful, and I knew exactly what she meant.
The first time
That first mission for me is the most memorable of many to come. I was riding my bike up and down the barn bank, my cap gun in the holster in case any bad guys tried to pull any shenanigans.
I always stayed pretty close to wherever my father was working, hoping that one day my services would be called upon. That day, Dad called for me as he came out of the milk house, an empty box in his hand.
“I need you to take this over to Doc Smith and see if he has anything just like this.”
I had a nifty little white basket attached to the handlebars of my Schwinn. Dad placed the empty box in that basket, giving me instructions on road safety, and off I went, feeling like big stuff. I felt like I had instantly been promoted to the big leagues, after years of being passed over for the older, stronger players.
From the dairy barn, I pedaled hard about 200 yards on our road, and I knew to come to a complete stop at the old Lincoln Highway, taking a good look both ways before turning right. It was the first time my bike had ever seen this stretch of road, and I was doing it all by myself.
It was a pretty big deal.
I made a left on to Doc and Shirley Smith’s road, then a quick right in to their drive. I parked my bike as carefully as if it were a Corvette instead of a Schwinn Stingray, grabbed up the empty box and walked into Doc’s vet clinic. Receptionist Ruth looked beyond me, expecting to see my mother, I realize now.
When it dawned on her that I was alone, she said, “Does your father know you’re here?”
“Yes ma’am, he sent me,” I said, puffing up a bit.
I spoke my business, Ruth handed me a similar box and sent me on my way.
I knew to keep moving, not only because Dad needed that medication, but it went without saying he would be watching for me to return safely. There was no time to chase horse thieves on this stretch of road. I pedaled fast, never encountering a single car, then jumping off the seat while the bike was still moving when I got back to the dairy farm, my mission nearly complete.
I grabbed the new box out of the basket, then ran lickety-split into the milk house, handing it off to Dad. It wasn’t until many years later, when I told my dad how that day was indelibly etched in my memory, I realized how much he worried over all of his kids.
It was a quiet, safe community — it wasn’t that he worried someone would intentionally do us harm. It was because he had known crushing loss in his life, and this is why he gave us safety talks at every single opportunity.
“I knew that a fellow can’t hold on so tight that no kid can breathe. I’m sure I’ve made my share of mistakes, but I didn’t want putting any of my kids in danger to be one of them.”
He said he watched to be sure I stopped at the stop sign before he went back inside to tend to the sick cow, and he didn’t get a single thing accomplished until I got back from that big journey.
When I was older, I often drove Dad’s truck to various places to pick up parts or deliver something, sometimes a few counties away. I never lost that feeling of self-worth with a dash of pride sprinkled in.
And I never had to carry money, no matter how large the purchase. It wasn’t until later I realized what that said about my father.
No matter how old I grow to be, I’ll never forget the great feeling of tearing out of the gravel drive on that little blue bike, a simple empty box my cargo. That little errand could have easily been measured in yards, but to me it was the grand prize trip.
That was the day I went from sitting the bench to varsity squad.
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