It was 1979. October 31, 1979, to be exact and dusk. I was in fourth grade and had received my birthday present early–a black and gold Team Mongoose bicycle. It was my first BMX bike and I loved it immediately.
On this Halloween evening though, I was across town from home and it was getting dark. Rather than take “the trails” home in the dark, I decided to take the shorter route through what I grew up knowing as “Black Town.” Again, this was 1979 in Arkansas. Not even poor people were integrated then.
The youngest of trick or treaters were just coming out–little ghosts waddling like E.T. before we knew, “phone home…” I started down the hill, more of a declination really, but enough that a kid on a bicycle could pick up some speed. I remember riding on the sidewalk, one of the few in Russellville. Parts of the neighborhood were quite new.
What I remember now, on this anniversary date 37 years later, was a dogleg curve in the sidewalk that I wanted to avoid. I don’t remember if I rode out into the street from a driveway or if I rode off the curb, but I still remember the feel of the loose sand under the front tire as it slid out from beneath me as I cruised down the hill.
I was down and sliding on the pavement, breath knocked out of me, and my face bounced once off the street. I stood up fast and already blood was all over the front of my shirt. I don’t remember the shirt now–but so much blood and the sand stuck to my hands and face. I remember starting to breathe again.
From somewhere, some house nearby I heard, “Jeffery, Jeffery, is that you Jeffery? You ok Jeffery?” It all hit me–the admonishments of, “Don’t go through Black Town.” I was terrified. I was ok, but wouldn’t know that for another half hour or so. He was a classmate of my sister who was two years younger. I recognized his voice but not his face as I wiped tears and sand while picking up my bicycle.
I don’t know that I said anything to him. This person who had concern in his voice for me. In my mind I remember talking with him the next day at school but I’m certain I didn’t thank him enough for reaching out to someone in distress.
I got home and went to the emergency room for a few stitches in my chin. That night I learned something about “Black Town”–about what people think and say about the unknown.
I didn’t ride my bicycle on Halloween for years after that. Unlike today where I’ll hop on the bike to get to the day job and grateful for the ride.