I was ten and it was a perfect summer day. The air was filled with the scent of clover and there were no plans. No bible school, no baseball games or scout activities. No need to wear shoes. No cars coming in or going out of our tiny neighborhood, which meant kids owned the street. My brothers and their friends played baseball in front of our house, while Blackie (the neighborhood dog) stood ready to chase the ball as soon as it was hit.
Blackie was small, sleek, and nimble as a ninja. He was cunning and stealth. He was the GI Joe of dogs and a mascot for our neighborhood. He should have been named Loki, Evil Knievel, or Batman. But kids in the 60s weren’t that creative. Most of our pets were named the second we saw them: Snowball, Bandit, Yellow Kitty, Pumpkin or Tiger.
The lightning-fast Blackie belonged to the Johnsons, but he hardly ever stayed there.
Five mornings a week, Blackie was put outside with food and water in his expansive backyard. Our yards were long and deep, with chain link fences, yet everyone on my street had seen this trickster of a dog climb right over one. Somewhere I’m sure there are still pictures of Blackie perched on top of a fence, taking a quick breath while surveying his next destination.
That blissful day, I stood in the street talking to a friend on her bicycle. She asked if I wanted to go with her to visit someone down the street. I needed my bike.
“Hop on and we can share the seat,” she said, “It’s not that far.”
Long before the Schwinn Sting-Ray and its banana seat, kids were bumming rides on a single seat. It was a careful jockeying of occupying the back part of the seat if you were a passenger and steering and pedaling the bike while mostly standing if you were the driver. ‘No Riding Double’ was a perennial bicycle rule. I had heard it at least 50 times. But this was just down the street, so I didn’t give it a second thought. My friend stood straddling the frame while I climbed onto the seat. She gave the bike a strong push with her foot, and I stretched my legs out to avoid contact with the wheel. We laughed at the awkwardness of it all.
Suddenly, I heard the cracking of a bat striking a ball.
And then I saw Blackie. He was coming out of right field and headed straight for the ball. In a moment of panic, I decided to stop the bike– by inserting my bare foot into the moving wheel. Instantly the bike fell onto the street. The dog never slowed down.
My foot hurt. My friend was freaking out. Gravel stung my knee and the boys who were laughing now ran towards us. My friend covered her face. I was on the road, under the weight of the bike.
There was blood everywhere.
My brothers ran to tell my parents, while everyone else huddled around me. In minutes, my dad made his way through the circle of kids and carefully removed my foot from the spokes. The boys lifted the bike upright and Dad carried me home.
My parents had a deal, if a doctor’s visit involved blood or needles, he would take me.
My dad and I had many things in common. A phobia of these was at the top. Maybe early in their parenting Mom believed constant exposure would ease his yips. Or maybe it was comeuppance for being a grown man who got woozy in a doctor’s office.
The trip to the doctor was agonizing. My foot was wrapped in rags because Mom was not about to ruin good towels. The entire ball of rags was then covered with a plastic bag to protect the car. On the way to the doctor, I stopped crying. My dad had the most soothing voice in a crisis. Every few minutes he asked how I was doing and assured me everything was going to be okay.
Inside the clinic, the air was cold, and the smell of alcohol permeated everything.
The doctor explained the inchmeal process of stitching up my foot, while Dad held my hand. Mine was shaking; his was clammy. He refused to look at what they were doing, but every time someone came into the room, he would tell the story of my accident. From the dog’s speed and cleverness to my brilliant decision to stop the bike with my foot. And each time, at the end of the story, someone would ask if the dog was okay. And they would all laugh.
Young as I was. I knew Dad made everyone laugh to avoid looking at my foot while it was sewn. After it was bandaged I was given a tetanus shot. Then we went to the drug store and ate ice cream while we waited for my antibiotics.
At home, I climbed gingerly out of the car. My entire foot was in a large, ugly bandage. Dad grabbed the prescription from the seat, then helped me up the driveway.
Suddenly, we both saw him. Streaking alongside a bicycle on his way to his next adventure, was the dog who could not be stopped. And out of my dad’s mouth it came, “All right, the dog IS okay.”