In 1952 I was not yet old enough to drive. Being stuck down on the farm, fifteen miles from Rich Hill and twenty from Butler complicated my social life. Fact is, I didn’t have one, and no one took my plight seriously. Defeated, I finally took matters in my own hands.
My folks had given up any hopes of inheriting Tanglewood, packed up and moved back to Oregon. Me? I had one more year of high school and I didn’t want to change horses in midstream, so to speak, and I insisted on staying behind. I didn’t share any details about the redhead on Plum Street, the real reason for digging in my heels.
From the Hawks’ farm, some six miles south of Tanglewood, came the rumor of an ancient motor scooter – a Cushman? no one seemed to know – that could be had for $25 – a doodlebug, whatever that was, someone called it.
I considered the benefits of owning such a machine. First, and most important, I probably wouldn’t need a license. Such a unique vehicle would provide freedom and independence like I’d never known. With my folks gone, I didn’t ask anyone else’s opinion. I simply saddled a horse and rode to the Hawks’ place to have a look. I found the Hawks kid, Don, slopping the hogs. He stopped his chores and lead the way to an implement shed where it was stored.
This Doodlebug, as Don called it, was smaller than I’d envisioned, and I wondered if it was going to do the job. Equally as troubling was that the muffler was missing, and there were no lights. Maybe I should mount up and ride away? Not a chance. “No need for lights. Get where you’re going before dark,” said Don when I mentioned it. Little did he know that after dark was when I would be on the move. But maybe I really wouldn’t need lights. I’d thumbed a hundred rides to Rich Hill and back, and many times I’d hoofed the fifteen miles in the dark. I knew that road as well as I knew the floor plan to my own bedroom. But there was one nagging issue. I didn’t have $25. “How much you got?” “Seventeen,” I said through clenched teeth.” “Take it.”
Hell, if I’d known he was that easy I’d of seen how much he’d pay me to take it off his hands. But it was a done deal, and it was my fault for being so slow on the get go.
Since I couldn’t ride a horse and a scooter at the same time, Don delivered that same afternoon. The old scooter looked pretty shabby after the initial thrill diminished. I didn’t know what my girl was going to think. I tried cleaning it up, but there’s only so much can be done with flaking paint. I soon gave up and waited the long week for Saturday evening to arrive. I’d sent her a postcard, telling her he would be arriving at seven on my scooter. There wasn’t time for her to respond, so I could only assume she’d gotten it. Grandpa complained again about my Saturday nights in Rich Hill. “When I was your age, I stayed on the farm and worked. I only courted my girlfriend during late autumn and winter,” he growled, sending a stream of tobacco juice splattering into the dry, summer dirt. “I bet you didn’t keep her long.” “Oh? You can bet again, because she’s your grandmother,” he barked. Obviously, he and I were not cut from the same bolt. Clad in new Levis, and a sporty, white polo shirt, I headed out to get my scooter, and found Grandpa walking in circles around it. When the engine roared to life, I knew my ancestors at The cemetery were wondering what was going on at the farm. Grandpa said something, but I couldn’t hear him over the engine noise, so he shook his head and frowned. He was still standing in the lane, watching, when I turned onto the county road. The doodlebug had a top speed of about seventeen, that is, until I reached the first grade. The motor lugged down, and nearly conked out. However, kicking at the pavement helped, and eventually it chugged to the crest. The same thing happened on the second grade, and again on the third. By this time my kicking leg was done for. So on the fourth grade, which was steeper than the others, I bailed off, planning to run beside it. That was when I realized there was no throttle control. I had bought a go/no go scooter. My discovery was almost too late, because the engine flared and I was dropping behind. Somehow, I managed to scrambled onto the seat, only to repeat the conking-out episode. In spite of cramped legs and seared lungs I managed to reach the summit My clothes were soaked through by the time he reached Plum Street. “What happened to you?” she blurted, after responding to my knock, and glancing at my new Levi’s and sporty, white polo shirt. She didn’t wait for my explanation. We stayed home and played Monopoly because she didn’t want to be seen with me. She said it was because she knew I was tired, but she was lying. The scooter didn’t make a second trip to Rich Hill. Instead, I parked it behind the horse barn, next to the rusty thrashing machine. My social life’s as back to square one, nil. The only thing that had changed was that I was out $17.