Time to raid, forage, and plunder! Fight with the new guys down on the corner. Race with Charles, Bernie Brooks, and them other guys on bikes. I'd jump on the handlebars with Skeeter pedaling. Bike out of control, we plowed into a fire hydrant at full speed. I rolled around on hard sidewalk pavement in excruciating agony (later in life to learn of broken ribs). But other than that one time, we always won the race.
Bernie Brooks' big baloon-tire Hawthorne bicycle was almost identical to mine, except his was more brownish, mine more reddish. He could ride -- ride fast-fast-fast. Nobody but nobody could ride like Bernie! But the last time I rode on his handlebars, something made me promise myself never to ride with him ever again.
We played hard like river otters, worked like army ants at having fun, rode bicycles better than cowboys rode horses, built clubhouses and forts in backyards and vacant lots, then spent the nights in them. We made "chugs," commonly known as go-carts, and skateboards(using roller skate wheels)... A routine heavy-duty day consisted of biking, running, building clubhouses and tree houses, and wrestling.
That day the sun was shining as it rained at the same time, almost like an omen. My sister Terrie said that always means that the devil is being his wife. When Momma came home, something special was in her eyes as she looked at me.
She sat down, pulling offer her shoes. "Bernie Brooks was riding his bike and was run over by a truck."
"What hospital is he in?... Momma, let's go see 'em."
Mom sat still stoically, eyes watering. "he's not in the hospital Melvin."
"Then he's at home?"
She sat looking the truth into me, shaking her head.
The word slowly kindled up, whispering from somewhere deep in my throat. "Killed? Bernie's dead?"
Bernie and I were nine years old.
I was devastated. He got killed on the exact same bike I used to ride with him, directly in front of the house I had just moved from, right where he and I used to play together. Plus the fact that 'Brooks" just happened to be the name of the only Black funeral home in St. Paul, which just happened to be a couple houses away from where the accident happened. Something had told me never to ride with him again, and I never again did.
For whatever reason, his death earmarked the time, the totality of the year, for me. It was the death of Rondo.
[From Diesel Heart, Melvin Carter Jr.'s lovely autobiography.]
|[Rice Street and Rondo Avenue, c. 1954.]