I grew up in a midsize city in South Georgia and looking back now, life seemed to be much simpler then than the world we live in today. Kids played until dark when their mothers called them in and the windows were open so you could hear the crickets chirp and get a cool breeze.
My mother went to work after my father died when I was six so I learned to be independent at a pretty early age. She worked long hours and it was necessary that I look after myself a lot of the time. My older brother was supposed to keep an eye out for me but he was young too and had his own stuff. He couldn’t be bothered with a little sister all the time.
By the time I was ten, I had learned to manage quite nicely. I was never a girly girl and didn’t play girly girl things very often. What I really liked was to ride my bike and roller skate and climb the occasional tree. I usually talked my friends into doing what I wanted to do in exchange for playing some of the dumb girl stuff they wanted to play. I reasoned that it would be practice for when I had to grow up and do girl things all the time.
My knees and elbows were usually skinned and I had quite a few bruises but I managed to keep from getting hurt seriously considering some of my antics. There was a lumber company a few blocks from my house and it had the most amazing tree with really good thick branches that you could climb up and feel secure. We would climb up the tree and get on top of the lumber company so we could sit underneath where the branches hung over the flat roof. It was a great hiding spot and we plotted many devious things sitting up there. Eventually, the conversations would lead to boys which ended the adventures. We started to think that maybe boys wouldn’t be interested in girls that climbed trees like monkeys. Nevertheless, I managed to climb up there for a couple of years and had lots of fun without getting injured unless you counted that one time that I slipped and scraped most of the skin off my knee.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite so lucky on the ground. Roller skating is always dangerous and there weren’t any helmets and knee pads back then so I tried to practice landing softly. The bike was a different story. I loved my bike and riding fast was exciting. Most of the time I could manage to stop or fall on the grass if necessary.
But one day my friend Kay and I were riding and as usual I was going pretty fast. This one day I was riding down the block where I rode every day and practicing my famous “no hands” maneuver when all of a sudden I hit this giant root that I swear was not there the day before when I had ridden down this very same street. For anyone not familiar with the kind of roots that centuries old oak tree have, just know that they are big, they grow bigger overnight, and they line every single sidewalk in town.
Well, if there had been such a thing as America’s Funniest Videos at the time, I would have won the prize. My bike tire hit the tree root and turned sideways just enough to throw me off balance and over the same handlebars that I had not been holding onto landing me headfirst into the giant oak tree that had spawned the root from Hell. I lay there for a couple of minutes before Kay reached me and was screaming, “Oh no, are you dead?” My head felt like someone had clubbed me with the tree root but I had to answer because she was screaming loud enough to wake the dead.
With Kay’s help, I managed to get up and make it home. I was bloody from head to toe but apparently, my knees and elbows had taken the brunt of the impact. My face was bruised and scraped and my eye had started to swell already. Neither of us was smart enough to get ice. Our first aid training was primitive at best but Kay decided that my injuries needed to be bandaged so she got a roll of toilet tissue and proceeded to wrap me like a mummy. The blood was coming through and I’m sure it was quite a site but I hurt too bad to complain. I didn’t even try to stop her from calling my mother at work.
Laying there with the side of my head aching I heard her telling whoever answered the phone at the dry cleaners where my mother worked that they should tell her to come home right away; that June was almost dead.
I could only imagine what my mother would say when she got home but I was pretty sure that if I didn’t die from my injuries, that she might kill me herself. Of course she didn’t. She rushed home and took one look at my black eye and the bloody toilet tissue covering my body, and started to cry. I felt worse from that than I had from the fall. I convinced her that I wasn’t going to die but just needed to stay home from school for a long time to recover. In fact, I felt so bad for scaring her that I promised to never, ever ride my bike without hands again.
Eventually, I recovered from my injuries and even though it was hard, I kept my promise to hold onto the handle bars while riding my bike. It probably helped that shortly after I discovered boys and I’m sure my mother must have been happy about that so she wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore.