The Bootlegger’s House and the Bicycle

Sometimes for hours my brothers and I would sit in the car behind the old bootlegger’s house, waiting on dad to get his evening or daily drinks. Behind the bootlegger’s house were many shade trees and a swing between several of them. If it weren’t for the negativity the place portrayed, it would have been quite the place to play. Mr. G as I will call him, seemed like a nice man, short and slightly rotund with a bald head, not lacking for personality. He was usually jolly and didn’t like to see us sit in the car. There were times he would bring us out a soda while he and dad talked for hours and hours about nonsense. Conversations that became more nonsensical as the day drew on and the laughter became louder and peculiar, for nothing I heard was funny. He wasn’t a bad person, it’s just the way he made his living. The longer we stayed, the more visitors he would have and the bigger the population of drunks became. With each new visitor came more grandiose stories than the last. One of them usually had a pair of dice in his pocket, so the crap games began. It’s strange how perfect the life of an alcoholic is when they are nearly anesthetized. In general, none of them were violent. Most of them did however have a very extensive vocabulary of expletives and knowledge of anatomical body parts. Mr. G. was somewhat of a hoarder. He had old bicycles in his back yard that we boys would take off on and never be missed. My first bicycle came from Mr. G. It was old, with rust on the chain and a seat that looked as if rats had lived there. It was awesome though, it was mine, something of my own. My oldest brother Johnny found an old bicycle seat that was in better shape than the one that was on it was and replaced it for me. He took the chain off at daddy’s garage, cleaned it up good by using gasoline and a wire brush and soaking it in old motor oil that was kept after oil changes. Daddy always kept the oil and would pour it on the backs of the pigs to keep them from getting lice or other embedded varmints in their skin. I remember him keeping the oil in a 55-gallon drum. He would dunk our chickens in it. By the time he was done with that, the poor chickens were so heavy with oil they could hardly walk, much less fly up to roost. My brother Rodney and I usually had the task of cleaning out the chicken house and raking all of the debris out before the oiling process began. He would make us coat the roost of the chicken house with the oil too. “There won’t be any fleas or blue-bugs in here”, he would say. Blue bugs are a tick that love chickens. It will suck them to death, especially under their wings. This was another sort of ritual my dad had every year, much like the story I have told you of him making us take worm pills every spring. Passing by old Mr. G.’s bootlegged house, I find it to be as dilapidated as many of the unpleasant memories of my childhood. It kind of makes we wish it had looked like this as a child, maybe we wouldn’t have spent so much time there. But then again, there were other bootleggers in town, with much poorer reputations than Mr. G. At least he was nice to us. As my bicycle came together and Johnny finished it, Buddy and I now had transportation, to come and go as we pleased. As this memory runs on secondary to the initial posting of the bootlegger’s house, I remember Buddy and I coming down the west side of Isbell’s Drug store one day. Buddy was pumping me on the back of the bike. We loved to go fast, we didn’t love not having any brakes. Well, as we jump the small uneven pavement that annexed another part of property, the jerk knocked the chain off of the sprocket. Buddy realized the brakes were out. By now we were underneath the canopy of the Texaco station that sits where Arvis Davis parks some of his vehicles today. Knowing the intersection was next, I remember pulling the handlebars hard to the left, even though Buddy was in “control”. We took a spill and slid almost to the intersecting road. I’m not sure if I hadn’t that Buddy would have let us go into the intersection. Everyone that was in the station came running out to see two kids scraped from one end to the other. We got up, walked the bike to the corner where dads garage was and licked our wounds. As we looked at the bike, we realized the chain had come off of the sprocket. I can still see us unbolting the back wheel, putting the chain around the sprocket and the back wheel sprocket, me pulling the wheel tightly backward while Buddy is tightening the bolts. They sure don’t make bicycles the way they used to. Two memories tied together, the bootlegger’s house that we dreaded, yet held the bicycle that brought so much joy.

Copyright @coffeewithcharles.blog (Charles D. Grant)

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