I bounded out the back door of my white, two-story, green-shuttered house and sprinted for the garage. It was an early July morning, so the grass was still soaked with dew and the charm of summer vacation had not yet worn off.
Once inside the garage, which was built for two cars but only had room for one due to the collection of toys, tools, and lawn equipment along the sides, I grabbed my recently-repainted BMX bicycle and headed out to the alley and down towards the street.
Once I got four houses down, I made a sharp right turn onto the path running alongside a modest, timeworn garage. From here, I pedaled into the adjoining backyard and kept right on going down the side of the corresponding house and through the front yard. At the edge of the property line was a small hill. Going up it, I always had to gather speed to make sure I didn’t stall one or two feet from the top. Luckily, the direction I was headed had me going down the hill, so I relaxed my legs and let gravity carry me down the hill, enjoying the feeling of acceleration and the resulting wind in my face.
I never knew the name of the owner of that house. I know he was a widower who lived alone. He was older and moved slowly due to years of fighting friction. The thing I remember most, though, is the kindness and joy that inhabited this man. Every Halloween, he would answer the door with a big, genuine smile on his face, happy to partake in the festivities. And for the neighborhood kids, he reserved King-size candy bars. Each year, I looked forward to stopping at his house all through the night.
A feeling of childish anxiety filled me each time I rode my bike through this man’s yard. I didn’t know him very well, just in passing as one neighbor knows another. Some people are very particular about trespassers. As a kid, I knew those houses and was sure to steer clear of their forbidden yards.
This was different though. I wasn’t just cutting through the yard; I never dismounted my bike. I rode straight through from one end of the property to the other. Each time my front tire hit his grass, I pedaled with focused determination, hoping to overcome this suburban obstacle without being chided. I would later learn how deep this man’s gentleness ran, though. On more than one occasion, he would see me riding my bike through his yard as he stood at the opposite end of my route, watering his garden. When he saw me, he would smile that big, genuine smile and wave at me. Today, I imagine he was just content to see children enjoying life, and to be a small part of that joy.
Part II Coming Next Week