Marlboro Musings: Flashbacks “Cycle” Up

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It’s truly the little things that really matter in life.

For example, for the last half-century plus, my parents have lived in the same home in East Bennettsville. And since moving into a rental home they own next door about six months ago due to some unexpected medical issues, I’ve laid down to sleep each night less than a sand wedge away from the bedroom my brother and I shared from the time we were kids until we moved away as teens.

And that house and street have been anchors for me throughout a life lived in a couple dozen different locales, a constant that I could always drag out to ease my mind if I got homesick while away, or return to if my plans had been upset or I was preparing for a new chapter in my life.

That’s pretty cool to me. And I don’t have to look very far around here to run into some pretty serious memories. I’ve turned onto this street so many times, in fact, that I usually do reminisce about some past event as I approach my home. It’s hard not to; the recollections just seem to jump out at me.

For example, just earlier this week I was puttering around the yard on a lawn mower and got to recalling some of the fun we used to have on Townsend Street as kids. More specifically, I recalled some of the major league bike racing we used to do out in front of my parent’s home. In fact, a large tree that once stood alongside my current driveway was once the center of turns three and four on our primary oval course, which had a front-stretch along the sidewalk in front of our home, then turns one and two were comprised of lefts out the first driveway entrance of the neighbor on the other side of mom and dad’s and into the street, followed by another left into the second drive and back onto the sidewalk, which also served as the backstretch, leading to some interesting maneuvering when meeting another bike that might be off the pace—or, more likely, recovering from either a spin caused or a block placed by another competitor. Or, quite possibly, a racer who had lost the “lead draft” due to poor timing with automobiles trying to use the street. How dare they.

And these races were not minor affairs as, in addition to the four or five of us young lads who lived nearby, we’d draw kids from blocks away, sometimes ending up with 6-8 bicyclists competing for that day’s glory. Nor were our bikes simple bikes, as we’d soup them up by adding decals and such, and, of course, clothes-pinning some baseball cards to the front forks so that they’d make a thumping motor sound when struck by the revolving front-wheel spokes as we accelerated.

Looking back, it was an awesome, and almost daily, event. And some great times.

On occasion, however, we’d forego the oval track and run relay bike races, which entailed one rider starting from in front of our house and racing down Townsend Street, almost to Main, to touch the Carlisle Court street marker, then racing back to the starting point where he would dismount and the second, or third, or maybe even fourth rider would climb on and run the same route to Carlisle and back. First team to finish all the legs were the champions. For that day. But there wouldn’t be too many days pass before a rematch was demanded, or teams were reset, and we’d be back at it again.

It’s a miracle none of us were killed by either bike crash or being hit by a car while dashing out into the street to negotiate turns one and two, usually while primarily concerned about–and usually looking behind ourselves to see–who was gaining on you.

But we did have a few minor injuries over the course of those events, the worse coming during an impromptu late afternoon/early evening relay race challenge that was spurred along by the fact that we had company that day, family friend Phil Thomas of Blenheim, visiting. By the time we got our teams set and were all lined up to start, it was already getting a little dark, but not quite enough for the streetlights to come on, so we gave a quick countdown, then dropped the green flag and the first two riders blasted off toward Carlisle Court while the rest of us, along with Wayne Kelley’s fairly large dog “Rock,” watched them.

As I recall, Phil was the rider for the second leg for his group, and his teammate handed the bike off with a bit of a lead, so Phil set off to lengthen it. And he did pretty good as he had stretched the lead out a bit for his team as, at full speed, he neared the transition area for the third and final hand-off. Unfortunately, “Rock,” had grown weary of playing with us and had decided to cross the street back to his owner’s house–an action Phil had neither anticipated nor, more importantly, noticed in the dimming light of dusk. I’m unsure when Phil finally saw “Rock,” or if he ever did, but we certainly found out that “Rock” was very appropriately named because just as Phil approached, “Rock” walked out in front of him and Phil hit him full-speed, stopping him instantly and launching him over the handlebars and onto the asphalt. At speed. There may have even been a full somersault involved. Race over. And, while “Rock” walked on home without apparent injury or even noticing, it was time for us kids to go get an adult and head down to the old Marlboro General Hospital on Market Street to get Phil some medical attention, which I think involved a few stitches and, probably when he got home, a few good applications of that dreaded red Merthiolate or Mercurochrome we all hated as kids because it would sting like the dickens no matter how hard or long mama would blow on it.

Oddly enough, I don’t recall any more relay races being conducted after that incident.

But we had such a blast on this street for so many years that it’s easily understandable why it’s so easy for me to smile, and sometimes even laugh, when pondering my childhood past, or for that past to regularly find its way into the forefront of my mind.

And if I’m lucky, it always will.

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