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Broken Chain: Mended Heart

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie
Fond recollections from the late 1940's.......

When school was dismissed each day, I rode “Ole Yellow”, the big yellow bus about 15 miles to get home. We must have made 18 to 20 stops throughout the countryside, finally coming to the rural “back country” oilfield road leading to the Maxie house. Actually, I must admit, it was a narrow, dirt “pig trail” road.

The bus had traveled up and down nearly every dusty, gravel country road imaginable, dropping off students from McLeod Schools. In those days it was McLeod Consolidated High School. McLeod was a sleepy little hamlet in Cass County in far NE Texas. The highschool had consolidated with Huffines HS and together they barely had enough students to continue as an accredited school.

Today, it is well advanced with plenty of students, a great faculty and nice campus. It is near the Louisiana state line and attracts students from all over a large area.

McLeod is in the fabulously scenic Ark-La-Tex area a few miles north of the “most famous” Caddo Lake. There, for many years, some members of my family found life’s substance from an abundance of fish. Two of my uncles, Frank and Irvin Fedd were successful commercial fishermen on Caddo Lake at Oil City, Louisiana. It was there, for decades, they raised their family and made a living fishing.

Finally, it came my time to get off the bus. Being about 4 or 4:15, late afternoon and I was the last kid off the bus. Each day, boarding in the morning about 7:15, I was the first kid to get on. So you can see, getting out of bed at 6am, until returning home, it made a very long 10 to 11 hour day for this stapling shirt tail country kid. Although, by today’s standards, my bus ride in the1940's was relatively short. I know some kids today spend 3 to 4 hours each day on the bus. And that is more than a little ridiculous. No wonder, as soon as they get a driver’s license, they want a car to drive to and from school all the time. Can you blame them?

Leaving the bus, it was walking time for me. I walked the remaining half mile home and was anxiously greeted on the way by my big black dog, "Ole Coalie". Then on to the kitchen for some refreshing Kool-Aid and crackers, or homemade cookies Mother had made. I needed to relax and loaf a while in the yard with Coalie and a few of my "big kid" toys. Our yard swing was an “old” porch swing and it was a pleasure to lay around in, just gliding in the cool evening breeze. A cushion and a pillow was a plus.

You see, I only had two older sisters and they were never very interested in boy stuff, "boy" toys or games. Or for that matter, boys period before they reached junior or senior level in high school. But then, it became a whole different matter. To me, they seemed to go boy crazy over night; one at a time. Thus, I had very little competition for the bicycle, boy games or other “important” play things.
Sisters and bicycle
1947 photo of author, sisters and the bicycle

The biggest competition came at meal time, for our limited supply of food on the table. You see, being the baby, I lost out! I believe my growth, both physically and mentally, became severely stunted due to malnutrition. But then, aren’t we all at times somewhat mentally challenged.

Frequently too, on our “old auto battery powered radio”, the station dial became a big conflict when no one wanted to listen to the same station. I lost out there, too. Our station choices were limited. I liked “The Lone Ranger”, “Amos and Andy”, “Maw and Pa Kettle”, or Edward R. Murrow, when we could pick’em up on the airwaves.

My old bicycle I had left leaning against the back porch many months ago, today I noticed it was gone. I had not ridden it in months because of mechanical problems. The chain had become badly worn and broken. It also, by now, had flat tires, too. No one would take time to fix it for me! I wasn’t old enough to know how to fix it. The “down time” was making me become very broken hearted and sad. I wanted to ride.

Wondering what had happened to my bike, I put out an all-out search around the yard. Sometimes, I never knew, but my Dad could have sold it for scrap. You see, he kept a pile of scrap iron (we called it junk iron) out behind the smoke-house. When the pile reached a considerable amount, maybe a ton, he sold it to a local scrap dealer for a bit of much needed cash. In those days, scrap metal might bring $8 to $10 a ton. Every little bit helped.

So, I made a quick check of the junk iron pile. My bike wasn’t there. The search continued and being highly motivated, I left no stone unturned.

Before long, I walked through the old “lean to” car shed (carport) where my Dad kept a “handyman” work bench area. There I found my bicycle. To my great delight the broken chain had been replaced and the tires were fixed and aired up tight. It seemed very much like a new bike to me, even though it must have been 5 or 6 years old. Simple and inexpensive things often make a country kid mighty happy. Someone once said, “Tis not what we give, but what we share. For the gift without the giver is bare.” And I believe it!

A new chain! Whoopie!!! I was so happy! Now I could ride again. And ride I did! If that bike had been the type to “pop a wheely” on, I would have done that too. Instead though, I just spun out on the gravel in our driveway a few times, probable grinding rubber off the back tire. I was ecstatic! I had my wheels again!

Like a bird out of a cage, I was free! I could ride again; up hill; down hill and all about the place. I even ventured up the hill to the nearby tank battery at the Rambo Oil Lease; a place where my Dad often encountered gasoline thieves late at night. But that is another story I wrote right here on TexasEscapes, “A Midnight Gasoline Credit Card”, dated 08/01/05.

Thereafter, my bike was ready to go each day as I returned home from school. And if no one else had collected our family mail for the past few days, I often rode up to the rural mail route and picked up the mail from our roadside mailbox.

Oh, the joys of childhood! Especially the joys of my rural, back-country childhood. I had a simple, humble upbringing and learned early on that it never takes very much to make me happy. The simple, frugal lifestyle, often with the least expenses possible, still does the trick today. Even at that, I often feel we live a life of moderate, unnecessary excesses. But, isn’t that the American way?

Please see my story here at TexasEscapes titled “A Wild Childhood in the Woods”, dated 01/01/09.

Somewhere I read, “Regardless of what “state” you are in, be therewith content.” And I believe it! Don’t you?

This time the simple act of replacing a broken bicycle chain did the trick. It mended a young lad’s tender broken heart.

© N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray"
July 1, 2009 Column

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