Butch Teaches His Brother How To Ride A Bike…OOPS!

My brother Gary was born in 1952, four years after I came into this world, so naturally I felt it was my duty to pass on a few skills that I had acquired in my “growing up” years…such as (1) how to climb onto the roof of our house, toolshed, and barns, (2) how to hide in the haymow from Dad when we were in trouble, (3) how to open the upstairs window and urinate through the window screen at night (so we would not have to go outside to visit the outhouse), (4) how to act sick if Mom served liver for supper, and of course, (5) how to beg Dad for money when we rode with him to Darlington in the old Dodge pickup.

According to my mother, I began walking at 8 months of age, and shortly thereafter received my first tricycle, which I wheeled around the yard like a pro. When I was six, my cousin gave me his old bicycle, which I mastered in short time, and could therefore tour the countryside southeast of Darlington. It’s doubtful that any of today’s parents would allow their children to ride very far from home, but it was a different world back then. At the age of seven, I pedaled my bike to town, which was three miles from home, on several occasions in the summer of 1956. Munching on an ice cream cone, sipping a cherry phosphate, and opening a pack of Topps baseball cards, while sitting on the bench in front of Arthur Friend’s drug store, was pure heaven for a 7-year old. When you have your own “wheels,” you are a free man!

Well, a couple of years later brother Gary wanted to learn how to ride my bike. I had the perfect suggestion. Our enclosed barnlot ran downhill approximately 120-150 feet to a large gate which led to Dad’s corn bin lot. I stationed the bike at the top of the hill, and opened the gate at the bottom of the hill. I instructed Gary to get on the seat, let the bike start rolling down the hill, and then start pedaling so that the momentum would keep him upright. When he reached the gate, I would be there to grab the bike and bring it to a halt. Simple!

On my command, Gary began rolling down the hill, coasting…and then pedaling like a trooper, with a big smile on his face. However, as he approached the gate opening, I jumped in front of him and waved my arms, blocking his path. Evidently the devil made me do it. He panicked, swerved to the right, and steered the bike…yes, straight into a barbed wire fence. All tangled up, crying and screeching like a banshee, his shirt ripped to pieces…brother Gary was in a lot of pain. Dad was in the barn, heard his screams, and hurried over to survey the damage. Gary had three blood-oozing deep gashes across his stomach from the barbed wire. Dad carried him to the house and placed him on his back on an old table on the back porch…then instructed me, “Grab that bottle of turpentine over there!”

I don’t know what it feels like to have turpentine poured over fresh cuts to the flesh, but judging from Gary’s howling cries of terror, I have a good idea. I hightailed it to the haymow and covered my ears, praying I would not face the wrath of God…or even worse…Dad’s belt.

Well, no stitches were required and the cuts eventually healed, but little brother Gary had three scars on his abdomen for several years…thanks to me. But at least he learned how to ride a bike…albeit the hard way. And do you know what? He never did thank me! How’s that for gratitude?

– John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 32 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history