One of my favorite memories of my father was the autumn when I was 15 and living with my parents and five brothers and four sisters in the little town of Waverly, Ohio at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The trees that lined the narrow streets had all turned a brilliant orange, yellow, red or brown. The air smelled constantly of burning leaves and ripe grapes or melons.
We lived in the big white house on Walnut Street across the road from the Children’s Home, a large brick orphanage. From time to time we played with the orphans in their spacious yard. However, they were never allowed to visit us.
Because we often played outside, people looking for the children’s home frequently stopped at our place. When they wanted to leave a child, Mother would always say, “I do wish we could take them in. I’m sure they would be much happier with us.”
But what I want to talk about is the 1954 county fair. Our kitchen was crowded with baking for the 4 H contests at the fair. Dodo’s pumpkin pie, Susie’s oatmeal raisin cookies, Kathy’s gingerbread, and Nancy’s German Chocolate Cake smelled delicious as did my sour dough bread.
My brothers had photos of the family with our pets: Blackie, the cat, Wolf, the German shepherd and Grandpa Brown’s bees.
Riding to the fair, crowded together in Dad’s old gray Plymouth, we talked excitedly of our plans. As we approached the fairgrounds, we smelled the cotton candy, the livestock, chili dogs, and pizza and we heard the music from the Ferris Wheel and the Carousel. Then we saw the sign that immediately drew everyone’s attention. “They’re giving away a Schwinn bike!” Johnny shouted.
There was a gigantic photo of a brand new shiny red bike with chrome on the rims, tank and fenders. It had a headlight so we could ride it after dark. The sign read: “Tops in beauty, features and performance, powerful. Classic, elegant lines, most trusted name in bicycles Schwinn.” We all read the announcement aloud.
“If you really want to win the bike,” Dad said, “do as I say. Save all your tickets for every ride you take. We will put them all together in numerical order so we can find the ticket when they call our number There are more of us and we will be the only ones who are that well organized.”
So all ten of us children saved every ticket for the three nights of the fair. We had a box full of tickets and Dad lined them all up in order.
On the last night of the Fair, Mother and my little brother Mike had the flu and as the oldest I was chosen to stay home and Mother-sit and baby-sit. I was so restless, begging God to let us win the bike. “God, you know all of us kids have been sharing one old ready to fall apart bike and we really need to win that new fancy one. After all there are six of us old enough to ride it.
At 8 pm when Dad brought the rest of the kids home, my sister Susie was missing. “Where’s Susie?” I asked.
She’s riding the bike,” Dad said proudly.
“Don’t kid about that,” I begged.
A few minutes later, Susie arrived on the bright new bike.
Dad had taught us if you really want something bad enough and you are willing to work hard enough for it and cooperate and organize you can have it. In my memories I still see Susie riding home on that lovely autumn night, a look of glory on her face.