As a kid in the 1950s, I lived in the small village of New Carlisle, Ohio. It wasn’t precisely Pleasantville, but darn close. Like a lot of young boys back then, I played little league baseball. My position was catcher, and I did a fair job at it. The ball fields where we played and practiced were just outside the city limits, past the grain elevator, and across the railroad tracks, less than a couple of miles from our home.
The speed limit for cars in New Carlisle was 35 mph, but as soon as you crossed those railroad tracks, it jumped to 55 mph. Teenagers had drawn a line across State Highway 571 at that spot because it was exactly a 1/4 mile flat straightaway to the leading edge of the bridge that crossed Honey Creek. Most drivers, even if they weren’t drag racing, hit the pedal when they crossed that line.
I would ride my bike, a three-speed Schwinn, to and from practice and the games every day in the summertime. This particular day, I rode through town, crossed the tracks, and as I got close, turned my bike to the left to cross State Highway 571 and down onto the gravel road that led to the practice field.
I usually cleared myself before crossing the road, but my head must have been in the clouds because I didn’t look back until I was a third of the way across. Bearing down on me was a car close enough to make the grill appear like grinning death. The driver must not have seen me either because he did not slow down.
I stood up on my pedals and pumped for all I was worth. My burst of speed probably saved my life because the car narrowly missed my leg but still slammed into the back tire of my bike. The collision threw me into the air. Instinctively, I tucked into a ball, did one rotation, and came crashing down, tumbling through the ditch next to the highway–I had no protection because it was the fifties–nobody wore headgear or pads.
The driver, a young man, probably in his thirties, slammed on his brakes, pulled over to the side of the road, and ran back to me. “Are you okay? I didn’t see you until the last minute. I am so sorry.”
I had picked myself up out of the gravel where I had landed and brushed off the dust and the small sharp stones partially embedded in my legs and arms. I had several cuts and scratches but didn’t break anything. “I’m okay.”
The man insisted we file an accident report with the police, so he picked up what was left of my destroyed bike and put it in his trunk. I climbed in the car beside him, and we drove back into town (remember it was a more innocent time back then). We both made statements (I kept assuring everyone I felt fine), and then the man (sorry, I don’t remember his name) drove me back to the ball field, gave me $25 cash to replace my bike, and drove off.
I told the coach what had happened and said that I was okay and ready to practice. He said, put on your catcher gear, and so, I did.
This is not quite the end of the story.
While still at the ball field, my mother gets a phone call from the police asking if I had come home yet, was I still feeling okay, and what did she want them to do with my mangled bicycle?
She said, “What are you talking about?”
And the cop said, “Your son got hit by a car.”
I imagine she gasped a little at this point. “Where is he now?”
And the cop says, “He left here in the car of the guy that hit him. I think he was taking him back to baseball practice.”
“Don’t you know?” I never heard my mother curse, but I imagine the cop got an earful of angry shouts about how could they let me get in a car with a stranger and just drive off like that.
Keep in mind there were no cell phones at this time, and certainly no pay phones at the ball field, so she had no way to check on my whereabouts or well being. We only owned one car, and my dad had it at work in Dayton, so other than walking the two miles to where I might be, she had to pace the floor, hoping I was okay and would show up unharmed after practice.
When I walked in the front door (coach gave me a ride), I received a rollercoaster of emotions–happiness, anger, frustration, and concern. Mother reminded me that this was the second time I had almost given her a heart attack. (For the first time, see Memoir #2). I said, “sorry,” and that was that until my dad came home from work and I had to repeat the story once more.