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Western Flyer Time Machine

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Today was the beginning of my summer holiday and I spent the morning cleaning the basement. Somewhere between the furnace and my partially gutted stereo equipment was a reminder from the past, a deluxe Western Flyer bicycle, complete with busted headlights and disassembled wheels.

I remember the early advertisements describing the transformative effects a Western Flyer would have on the life of a ten year old: “Zip along straight-a-ways in third gear with your legs barely moving. Precision gearing simulates shifting into first or second, for climbing hills with surprising ease. Rich—looking, too. Glossy red and white finish, highlighted by chrome—plated handlebars, spotlight, rims, hubs and sprocket. And the enamel finish is baked on for greater durability. Slim 26 x l.375—inch tires reduce drag. Spotlight beams out a bright warning at night . . takes 2 “D” batteries (not included).”

As I shuffled through the trash, my thoughts returned to my basement and the task ahead.  I began gathering the remnants of my Western Flyer. Sadly, this heap of rusted metal and tarnished chrome is no longer the chief transport of a once spry, ten year old. It now serves as a different kind of vehicle. In an eerie sense, it is a kind of time machine, or maybe more accurately, a thought machine.

As I brushed the dust from its fading, red enameled frame, I mused at the thought of how effortlessly this bike once bounced over the pot holes and traversed the most precarious alleys of our small town in rural Arkansas. I remember the occasional runs to the neighborhood grocery, of how I preferred to venture out just at twilight.  That was a special time for kids and their bikes, a time to sample a blur of random voices and whifs of dinner meals, as we flew past the many houses along our route.  I enjoyed drawing cool breezes from the cotton fields, as I zipped down its dirt pathways.  The ride was a refreshing respite on a hot summer’s night.

For some reason, I usually pedaled a little faster whenever I neared the abandoned barn on the corner of Paschal Avenue.  Actually, I didn’t have a good reason.  It was just a passing sensation that was particularly appropriate for an over-imaginative ten year old.  On such a night, the past and the present intermingled, forming strong curiosities, or testaments to such foreboding structures. Not even my trusted steed could save me from all the shadowy specters that now resided there.  I sensed that this building had many secrets.  And, if the moon hung just right, with just the right amount of honeysuckle in the night air, I feared the old barn would speak.  I pedaled faster, and faster.

Most homes have at least one junk room or a scrapbook full of half faded fragments.  Some items are comforting, some items are sharp and dangerous, but all are a wealth of reminders. My bicycle is a scrapbook providing a trip back to another time, a time of endless summers, the security of a tree house, an evening filled with fireflies and the heavy scent of honeysuckle, and an always loyal Western Flyer, eager to share in my adventures. I’d like to take an actual ride back to the summer of 1962, but unfortunately my  2 “D” batteries have long been drained.