When I was in fifth grade, I received a new bike for Christmas. My Huffy Western Flyer 26-inch fire engine red bicycle came equipped with a fat middle tank, a luggage rack fixed atop the back fender, a forward-facing headlamp mounted on to the front fender, a forward reflection plate attached to my handlebars, a large chain guard, and a bell next to my left handlebar grip.
It was my first real ticket to freedom and adventure. However, it was the middle of winter; and I didn’t know how to ride it yet. Plus, dad bought it for me to grow into – which translated meant – I was unable to reach the pedals, while seated.
When spring came, I put on my game face and hit the road. It wasn’t pretty at first but persist I did. By the time I became proficient at riding my new horse, she had accumulated a few bruises. But we didn’t care so much because we were free, my new horse and me. Most importantly we had the freedom to explore much wider spaces and places than before. I didn’t have to venture too far from home at first because there was plenty to investigate within a one-mile radius of my house.
If I rode my bike down Chestnut St., headed towards the traffic circle, as I rounded the bend, on Chestnut St., the first street I encountered on my left was Vine. If I turned left on Vine, and headed towards the railroad track, Water St. would have been to my right. And almost exactly across the street from Water St. sat a haunted house.
I’m not kidding. It was haunted, and virtually every kid in my neighborhood knew it. One night Chat Campbell, Tommy and Moray Miles, and I rode our bikes to Herman Munster’s house. We parked a safe distance away and made the rest of the journey on foot. It was dark out. The sun had set, and we all needed to be home soon, else a grounding followed. At best, we had 15 minutes before lectures would abound.
So, we got to it. As we neared the ram shackled front porch, we started doing the whole paper, rock, scissors thing to see who was going to knock on the front door. As fate would have it, I lost.
My compadres nestled themselves quite nicely into some tall shrubs across the street, away from any potential harm or danger. And I was right there with them for two or three more minutes after drawing the short straw, so to speak.
But after giving myself a thorough talking to, I felt guilt-tripped enough to set my feet in motion. As I walked across the street, towards possible harm or death, I chided myself for not bringing some cherry bombs along. I was walking into a great abyss, unarmed.
As I crossed to the other side and down the sidewalk to the front porch, I noticed that several of the boards were rotted. I studied them for a moment and spotted a clear path to the front door. I took a deep breath, ran to the front door, knocked once, turned, ran directly to my bike a block away, hopped on it and headed home. The other three did likewise. I figured I was being followed by a ghost or something worse, so I never looked back, and I never pedaled so hard in my life.
More visits followed, of course, but those are stories for another time, perhaps. I’ll just say this – at one point we breeched the front door. It wasn’t locked because no one in their right mind would dare step inside, lest they encounter a Brobdingnagian monster or worse!
The house next to the Munster mansion was occupied by an older woman who lived alone. She was known as the cat-woman because she had 20 to 30 cats living with her. Well, one day she died at home and was discovered several days later. Use your imagination to fill in the blanks regarding what the medical team and cops found once inside the house. A girl in my 5th grade class told us what her policemen dad found inside the house upon entry. I guess it was horrific.
I haven’t liked cats since. I became a dog guy the big event, not that dogs would not also eat you if they were hungry enough.