It was more than just learning to ride a bike. It meant newfound freedom, an opportunity to explore new worlds. It was my passport to adventure.
I had finally mastered riding the bicycle the night before. I had been riding, if you want to call it that, up and down the street in front of my house, trying to keep my sister's bike upright for more than a few feet. I would stand astride the bike and carefully position the pedals.
I put one foot on the upraised pedal. Taking a deep breath, I would push down hard and at the same time lift the other foot and try to find a pedal for it, all the while trying to keep the bike upright and going in a straight line.
I was quick enough that when I realized that wasn't going to happen this time, I would jump to the ground, pull the bike to a stop and try again.
I can still remember the thrill when I was finally able to keep the bike going. I still had to jump off to stop or turn around. The braking system was a mystery to me at this point. I rode up and down Madison Avenue until the gathering darkness made it necessary to put the bicycle away for the day.
I had never thought about trying to learn to ride until I watched my older sister, Francis, trying to learn to ride a bike. I sat on the front porch steps and watched as Pat and Larry, my older sister and brother, held the bike for her and pushed to get her going.
I can do that, I thought. I just had to wait until she got tired before I could get my hands on the bike. I had a tricycle that I had received for Christmas one year, but I had outgrown it years ago. I also had a scooter, one of those two-wheel things that you had to pedal along. I never really cared for that.
I also had a wagon. I could ride in that, if I wanted to, but without someone to push you, that wasn't much fun. Anyway, wagons were never designed for riding. They were built for hauling stuff, like the time Dad brought home a bunch of new scrap iron from some job he was working on. He had given it to Larry, along with the suggestion that he could sell it and make some money.
Larry was ecstatic. Maybe you could not turn lead into gold, but this pile of scrap iron represented hard currency. He had just started with the Boy Scouts, and began to talk of the things he could buy. It did not take much to get me as excited as he was.
The following Saturday, I brought my old wagon over to the pile of scrap, and together we managed to get it all in the wagon.
"How much do you think we'll get for it," I asked.
Larry just smiled. "I'm not sure," he replied.
The junk yard was about three-quarters of a mile away, on the edge of town by the railroad yard. We were slowed down by the necessity of having to stop and lift the heavily loaded wagon over the curb every time we crossed the street, and it was a steep hill a full city block long. It was more work to hold the wagon back that it had been to pull it up and down over all of those curbs.
That hill on 21st Street was one of the toughest hills in Ogden. I can still remember the sense of accomplishment on the day I was able to pedal up that hill without stopping. After that, there wasn't a hill I was afraid to tackle.
The junk yard was surround by weed-covered lots. Across the street were rail yards, where the work engines, or yard goats, as we called then, were busy moving box cars around to make up trains.
Dad would bring us down here occasionally to watch the trains. He loved trains and watching the bustle of the railroad yards.
We pulled the wagon through the gate and parked it in the middle of a big scale next to a large, rusty metal building that served as an office.
Larry went over to a man who appeared to be in charge and proclaimed in a very casual voice, "I've got some scrap iron for you."
I admired the nonchalant way he spoke, like he had been doing this for years and this was just another transaction. He had a way of expressing himself, of talking to strangers and grownups that I always admired.
I was always thrilled whenever he invited me to do something with him. I suspect that many of those times he had invited me as a last resort, but that could never diminish the pride I felt when we were together.
Soon Larry came out of the shed and grabbed me by the arm.
"C'mon, Wally, let's go."
I was startled and confused as I grabbed the wagon and ran after him. I looked at his face. He was angry. I expected that at any minute, he would begin to cry. But he never did.
"What's wrong," I asked.
He never replied. He would not even look at me.
We walked along in silence, the empty wagon rattling along noisily behind us. As we came to Farr's Ice Cream, Larry asked me if I wanted a cone, and without waiting for a reply, went in.
I quickly followed, leaving the wagon at the door.
Larry was standing at the counter, looking at the big "Menu" board on the wall behind the counter. He reached in his pants pocket and pulled out some change. I could see some nickels and a couple of dimes. It was the money he had received for the scrap iron.
I learned later that it was a lot less than he had expected. As far as he was concerned, he was out of the junk business permanently. All I could see was that you got a load of useless junk, and presto, you had a handful of money.
You may be wondering what all of this has to do with riding a bicycle, and the answer is nothing. It's just a good story, and I could not think of any other place to put it.
But thoughts of junk yards, or anything else, for that matter, never entered my mind as I pushed Pat's green-and-white bicycle out into the street. It was a beautiful Saturday morning. The air was fresh and clean. The sun was shining. But I wasn't thinking about that, either. There could have been a hurricane, and I would not have cared.
Nervously, I adjusted the pedals, put my foot on one, gave a push with the other, and I was off! I could ride! I wanted to shout for joy, but instead chose to concentrate on keeping the bike upright.
Up and down the street I went. I tried a turn. The wide streets made it easy. I tried some fancy maneuvers, zigzagging in and out of the driveways along the street.
As my confidence grew, I decided to ride around the block. Down the sidewalk I went. As the first corner, I was able to make the turn easily. I came to Orchard Avenue, a half-street. The street was narrower, and the sidewalk was about half as wide.
I slowed and started a shaky turn. I had almost made it, when the front tire slipped off the sidewalk and caught the corner of a stop sign.
I was propelled forward and hit hard against the sloping crossbar of the girl's bike. With the bike, I fell to the ground. I couldn't move. Pain of an indescribable nature began emanating from the center of my body. I had never felt pain like this before. I had no idea such pain could exist.
Eventually, the pain began to subside and I began to breathe normally again. Tentatively, I began to move, to uncoil myself from the ball I had curled into, and slowly I got to my feet.
I picked up the bicycle and debated on whether I should try to ride or walk home. I looked down at the stop sign and could see where the bike had taken a nasty chunk of wood from one corner. That gave me some satisfaction, I suppose.
Even now, when I pass that corner and see that sop sign, I remember the day I first learned to ride a bicycle.