Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bikes Of Rust

Recently I wandered about on the farmland of my childhood. Once thriving with a variety of vegetables my family grew that would eventually make their way to our dinner table. Now the land has fallen to the inevitable cold winds of time; grown up with scrub oaks and longleaf pines. Purple Top Thistles and Devil’s Thorn now line the old crooked fence that runs its boundaries. Many years had past since a plow point touched this once open pasture; since my father worked this ground; geared up mules to chase-chains for braking the soil, or bounced behind the spinning blades of a front tine tiller to provide food for his seven kids… Many years indeed…

As I walked, memories of my childhood played over in my mind like those silent films in the 1920’s. Glimpses of endless days of play us kids had running about without a care in the world.

As I made my way to the back of the property, I came upon a scrap metal pile that had accumulated over the last 30 years… Growing up, my family lived so far out from town we didn’t have garbage pick up. So in the back of everyone’s farm was a burn pit or what we called a garbage hole. Everything made its way there from household trash to couches, even busted bikes that were too worn-out to ride. It was common in the afternoons to catch a whiff of burning plastic in the wind or see ash floating in the air. And if you were real lucky, you would get to see the garbage pile go up in flames with its melting milk jugs dripping blue and green colors; zinging through the air as it sucked oxygen from it like a flaming toxic vampire falling to the ground. Rats, rabbits, and snakes would crawl from the pile or scurry about…

But all of this changed once we became civilized enough for the garbage truck to pay us a weekly visit. So now that we had become a little more upper-class with our very own garbage can, something had to be done with the scrap metal twisted and rusting where the burn pit once was. The burn pit was out in the open and was a real eyesore now that we were moving up in the world.

My father was a master of using his surroundings to his advantage. He pulled all of the scrap iron out and threw it into a trench my friend and I had dug when were where into building forts as kids. This trench was in the back part of the farm out of sight. It ran at least 30 feet long and 4 feet deep. So in the scrap went. Year after year it piled up and rusted. Over time trees grew up from the bottom and sides like leafy long fingers from the earth pushing their way into the sky desperately looking for light.

Standing, gazing into the tangled mess, I saw one of the childhood bikes my brothers, sisters, and I road growing up. Then I spotted another. I started to reminisce about the days that had long since sailed away from me; only to be relived in my mind occasionally when looked back on across the vast ocean of day-ins and day-outs I had traveled.

Suddenly I found myself pulling at one of the old bike frames. In some strange way it felt like I was tugging at least part of a forgotten time back to the present. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, I just knew my creative mind had suddenly kicked into overdrive.

Getting it out, I noticed that most of the frame had rusted away. The only real solid piece left was the cast-iron crank. So I set off on a journey of trying to salvage as many sprockets and cranks as I could. I thought a clock collage was where this was all going. Pulling, prying, hammering and hack-sawing, I slowly started to add one piece at a time to my collection. As the afternoon’s sun fell in the skyline I started my way back to my truck with a handful of bike parts. My father was waiting for me outside of his home. He asked what I was up to and I shared my idea. I told him I was taking a little bit of my childhood back. He smiled in a way that told me he understood completely why I was now covered in rust.

Putting the collage together, I thought this sprocket was probably stamped out in some Detroit assembly line from some American steel worker bringing home a paycheck back when America actually made stuff. Then the sprocket was united with a shiny new bike and shipped across country to a Western Auto on Main Street in Gainesville, Florida. Then It sat patiently waiting until it was put on a layaway plan for the Christmas of 1965. After months of paying and working overtime my father and mother picked the bike up for my brothers and sisters and I to ride till the wheels fell off. To get lost in thought… To ride in a time when it was safe to dream till you couldn’t dream no more…

1 comment:

  1. Nice memories of the bikes we rode and our way of life. I remember us carrying the garbage out to the hole and burning it. I'm glad you were able to salvage the sprockets and gears for the clock.