George Worthy

Well, here is hoping your Fourth of July was a good one. Nobody got hurt or burned playing with legal or illegal fireworks. We used to buy a bunch of sparkling showers or whistles that could raise the dead from one or another nonprofit that sells them on the corners of Highway 101 and Fifth Street. 

Volunteers would sell them and we could usually enjoy them even if we didn’t buy any. We and the neighbors would sit outside and watch them every year. One could not complain too much because we knew that they were doing it to enrich their budget for the coming year.

My children got older the kids that used to oooh and aaah grew up, and we grownups didn’t want the bother. It wasn’t that they wanted a bigger bang, it was just that we would usually go over to see my daughter and swim in the Delta. As I write this, I guarantee that cannons are being bought along with less-destructive noisemakers that scare my precious pets.

However, due to the price of gas, we stay at home now. In fact, the price of gas was on my mind the other day. I was driving behind the donut shop as I took the back road to Fanoe Road when I was startled to see a man riding his bicycle. He wasn’t a boy nor an older man. He wasn’t doing any dangerous moves but simply riding along turning right and then left to lean over as he turned. 

He looked as though he was having a good time, bobbing his head as though he was hearing a tune in his head to keep time. I actually stopped for a while as it occurred to me that I seldom see kids out riding bikes anymore. I can’t tell you why, perhaps it is because we are living in a more compacted society. In any case, watching him brought back some really wonderful memories.

Do you own a bike anymore? Is it rusting away in the backyard or hung up in your garage? Or like me, just waiting for me to jump on and turn circles as the gentleman I watched for a while. He looked as though he was having such a good time. As I watched he finally became aware that I was sitting there waiting for him to move so I could continue my way home and leaned into a turn and stopped out of the driveway. 

We smiled at each other and waved as I turned onto the street. It was just a pleasant moment. As I was driving away, I saw how fast most of the cars on Fanoe Road drive, and with a sidewalk on only one side I thought to myself it might be a little too dangerous for him to ride anywhere else except the back of the stores in the shopping center.

I wished he could know how happy he had made me. I was flooded with memories of riding to school when I lived over near Santa Maria. All my pleasant memories of bicycles seem tied to that old two-story house in which we lived. It isn’t there anymore, but there used to be a kind of woodland behind our house. 

There were all sorts of birds and animals to see and shoot at when we lived there. We could ride our bikes over to any schoolmate’s house even on the road that went from Santa Maria to Guadalupe. Traffic was slower then. We would ask mom to make us a few sandwiches, jump on our bikes and go riding. Of course we had to be home before dark. Other than that caveat, we were free.

You didn’t have to call ahead because if the kids you were going to see weren’t home, it was still cool to have a destination. If you timed it right, you could go over to Richard’s house whose mom cooked for the Braceros on that farm. Then you could wander into the kitchen as though you belonged there and she would make us a burrito or something. That was where I tasted Mexican candy for the first time. My dentist was probably happy about that.

Or, if you were feeling particularly brave, you could ride over to the compound where the visiting Japanese workers lived. My dad told us to never go there because they had lost the war and they might want to take that out on some fresh kids. You know we believed him.

There weren’t any swimming holes in Santa Maria, and besides, the weather was just like the Salinas Valley. You could leave home with a jacket on and return with it tied around your waist. You only lost your jacket once. After you had a discussion with your dad you learned how to tie a knot that guaranteed you wouldn’t lose it again.

That young man that I watched ride his bike spurred me to get my bike out of the storage shed and filled the tires with air, and that’s what I did. It has been a day or two since I got road worthy, and I’m looking forward to ride it again. I probably won’t create a memorable ride this time, but then I don’t plan on going very far.

I’m sure I will remember the ride because of the actions of that young man down at the shopping center.

He doesn’t know how profound he touched me, but then that’s the best way. If I ask my kids what they remember about their childhood trips and adventures, they will probably say motorcycle racing or going over to Las Vegas to see the World Superbike Championship races.

Of course, they may remember that trip so much because we, OK me, lost the car we were driving and walked around in the cold weather until it was about the only car left in the lot. It didn’t bother me, but they kept asking if I ever got lost in Vietnam. They may not dream as they get older as I did as a child, but I’m sure they will remember.

God Bless.

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Gonzales columnist George Worthy may be reached at [email protected].


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