A recent Facebook reminder sparked a memory long encased in the past. The post was a notice of a birthday for a childhood friend, Eddie Reilly. When I read the post, a memory burst forth in my mind from August 1963 or 1964. Not sure of the exact year, but I am certain of a memorable moment in my youth and how priorities change.
Several of us were riding our bikes along the then under construction Route 295 in Cumberland. We had ignored any signs warning us against such trespassing. The lure of racing along newly laid asphalt was irresistible.
Riding with normal youthful abandon–without helmets that none of us owned and wouldn’t even consider wearing—we raced up and down, sliding and skidding, breaking many personal speed records.
Now this wasn’t just an ordinary summer day. This was Eddie’s birthday and we were going to his party at the ultimate place for youthful celebrations. The 1960’s equivalent of a trip to Disney World. The mecca of amusement and entertainment to which we looked forward and thought of nothing else for several days before.
We were going to Jolly Cholly’s.
Life did not, could not, get any better than that.
Back on 295, we made one more racing run and then headed home. Approaching the still unfinished off-ramp, there were several layers of road surface. I jumped the first one but misjudged the second one. The front wheel hit the raised edge and the bike stopped dead.
I did not.
Using my enormous acrobatic skills, I used my face to stop my forward motion. It worked.
In the memory I hear others laughing, but I may have made that up. Although my memories of those times laughing would fit in with the character of Eddie Reilly, John Johnson, and whoever else was there.
Standing up, I reached up to wipe the dirt and tar off my face and discovered two things; blood covered my face, and my two front teeth were no longer attached.
I don’t recall crying, but I knew I needed to get home right away. I had to make sure of one overriding concern and there was only one person in the world who could answer the question, my mother.
Jumping back on the bike, I raced home. Blood dripped onto my shirt and the coppery taste infiltrated my throat. Yet I rode hellbent to seek my mother’s advice.
Dropping the bike in the driveway, I burst into the house. My mother was in the kitchen and I could tell by the look on her face my bloodied appearance was the last thing she expected to see. I had covered my mouth, hoping to conceal the missing teeth since I felt responsible and had now lost them.
“What happened to you?” my mother said, walking toward me. “Where were you?”
“I knocked my two front teeth out. We were just riding our bikes (which was a true statement, the location wasn’t critical) and I fell off.”
And then I asked her the most important question. One I considered more important than two missing teeth, trespassing on an interstate highway, or bleeding on the kitchen floor.
“Can I still go to Eddie’s birthday party?”
That was the only thing that mattered at the moment.
My mom cleaned things up. Got the bleeding to stop and then made everything better. “Well, they were gonna fall out anyway. You can if you want.”
So I got to go to Jolly Cholly’s and eat what then tasted like Nirvana but probably was the worst pizza ever. I gummed my way through the cardboard crust, and all was right with the world.
On an interesting side note, the truth of our escapade came out. We were cautioned under penalty of severe consequences never to ride there again. But we didn’t sue the state, the manufacturer of the bike, or anyone else.
We just learned a valuable lesson. No matter what happens, there is always a way to eat pizza.
Every time I drive northbound on 295 and pass the Diamond Hill Road exit I still think of my teeth and how good that pizza tasted.