About Me

My photo
MCG, a Chicana feminist, for sure, teaches community college English

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Food Stamp Diet

I hated when mom made shit on a shingle. She always laughed when she said the name, but I didn't. The name and the combination of the ground beef and the cream of mushroom soup and all piled on a piece of toasted bread repulsed me -- a steaming pile of dinner. Seeing it on a plate in front of me made me want to cry. Shit on the shingle was a mid-month meal -- when there was still a bit of meat in the freezer and bread in the cupboard. And who didn't have a few cans of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup in the cabinet circa Jimmy Carter. Shit on the shingle tasted worse than it looked cold, so it was best to eat up while it was still hot, but I often stalled around so long before taking the first bite that it would have already started to cool, the toast soggy and practically indistinguishable from the rest of the glop. My brother always asked for seconds, and Mom would go back to the black cast iron skillet on the stove where the rest of the sticky white mass waited for its cushion of crispy toast. 

          "Michelle, do you want more shit on a shingle, she'd ask laughing, as if she had cracked some great joke.
          Sitting there on an old splintery picnic bench for a chair at the old, splintery picnic table where we ate, I'd shake my head, looking down at the white mass still on my plate. I tried to pretend it was Thanksgiving mashed potatoes. I loved mashed potatoes and gravy and the whole Thanksgiving meal.
          "There's one more piece of toast here, if you want it."
          "No, thank you," I said, not wanting her to think that I didn't like it.
          At the beginning of the month, just after mom got her check and a new batch of food stamps, we'd usually have tacos. Mexican-American tacos with ground beef served in a crunchy corn tortilla that she'd cook in oil, folding each one in half and cooking them until they were crispy on each side, lifting each out of the pan with tongs, and letting the oil drain off into the pan. To soak up as much of the remaining oil as possible, she'd place each hot, crispy corn tortilla on a paper bag. She was careful to make sure each corn tortilla cooked in a way that made it possible to stuff with ground beef, cheddar cheese, lettuce, and tomato without breaking to pieces. Tacos were our favorite even though there was a lot of cutting, chopping, grating, and cooking involved. They made us so happy that Amonie and I didn't argue or even talk until our plates were clean.
           Instead of going through all the trouble of cooking the corn tortillas just so, Mom could have bought taco shells, as they were called in the store, but when it came to cooking Mexican food, Mom didn't usually cut corners, and taco shells were expensive. Tortillas were a staple food in our house, corn and flour, even though she knew how to make the flour tortillas by hand.
     When we got older, my brother and I ate a lot of quesadillas because they were easy to make. Mom usually bought a block of cheddar cheese and a block of jack cheese with her food stamps at the beginning of the month, but when that was gone we made our quesadillas with government cheese that mom would get along with a huge box of powdered milk at the welfare office. Government cheese came in a box. It was sort of cheddar, sort of American in taste, and quite rubbery. The block of cheese was about as long as my arm and weighed about as much as a brick. Hit somebody in the back of the head with that block of cheese, and they might not wake up. You had to use two hands to get that sucker out of the fridge because dropping it on your toe was murder -- I had done it. When mom did make flour tortillas by hand, you didn't dare desecrate them with government cheese -- they were too good for government cheese. A homemade four tortilla just off the cast iron skillet, smothered with butter and rolled up neatly so it fit in your hand, that was the best way to eat one of mom's flour tortillas.
          For breakfast at the beginning of the month we ate Life or Kicks, the only kind of cereal we were allowed to get with WIC vouchers. Cereal, in general, was a treat for all of us because it wasn't something that Mom could usually afford to buy on her own, and because it was easy to prepare without Mom's help. The Kicks always went first. Life Cereal was good in taste, but it got soggy fast. It looked so pretty, those toasty brown squares with a modest sprinkling of sparkling sugar on top, but add milk and get distracted by a fly buzzing around the kitchen table, and it quickly converted into a crappy looking appetite-suppressing goo. Since mom had trouble waking in the morning, having cereal in the cabinet was handy, otherwise we had toast or bread with butter and sugar on top.
          Near the end of the month, we were sure to have some kind of legumes: pinto beans, lentils, and in the winter split peas. Split pea soup with a ham hock was good the first day and even better the second, but by the third or fourth day, it wasn't so good anymore. By the third or fourth day it would harden quite a bit, and Mom would have to add water to stir it. If there was any left in the house, even the ends, mom would serve the four day old lentil soup with buttered bread to cheer it up. Mom always got her biggest pot out to cook in at the end of the month, and if she wasn't cooking some kind of legumes, she'd cook some kind of hearty potato soup or chile beans that would last, and last, and last.
I was careful not to complain because I knew what it was all about, but I made sure to have an extra large glass of water with dinner to wash it all down.

Monday, August 20, 2012


Polaroid of MCG on Patches with sister Zhanna-- brother, Amonie holding the reins

           Most little girls want a real pony and never ever get one: too expensive, too big, where would we keep it, why don't you just get a dog instead? I wanted a pony too, and when I was ten, after a lot of begging for a beautiful sleek horse, with a long mane, I got a pony; her name was Patches, and I got her for Christmas.
         Patches was a stubborn, overweight, twelve-year old, Shetland pony whose body was divided into different colored patches like oddly shaped pieces on a quilt: white, caramel, dark brown, and black. Anything but sleek, she was the only pony my mother could afford, if we could really afford her at all, but she was mine. At first, even though the ground was covered in a layer of crunchy white frost, I spent a great deal of time outside, brushing her long, dark mane, feeding her alfalfa and oats, and on warmer days, moving her tether to different parts of the yard where there was a bit of green grass for her to munch on. Her official home was the ragged chicken coop and shed where my mother had housed some chickens and a rooster, but after a couple of raids by neighborhood dogs, the chicken coop and shed remained empty. It was now a dry place for Patches to stay on rainy days and during cold nights.
         Before Patches, while dropping hints, then all out begging, I had romantic horse riding fantasies. I'd be on the back of my black horse, galloping along, the background all around us blurred in motion, my long, dark hair floating behind me. Of course, riding Patches never went the way I imagined; she didn't like to gallop at all, and I soon realized that I was quite afraid of her. If it hadn't been for my friend Rachel who had also gotten a pony for Christmas (we were neighbors and our moms were friends), I would have never worked up the courage to ride mine. Rachel's pony was a couple of hands taller than Patches, younger, black in color, and named Stormy. In spite of her name, Stormy was much more cooperative than Patches. On our many trots to town, Stormy never came to a dead stop, lowering her neck to eat a patch of grass. She never sent Rachel flying over her neck, or clinging to her mane sliding sideways in slow motion before landing on the ground with a thud.
         Before getting Patches, my Aunt Jude, a true horse woman, who was not my real aunt but my mom’s best friend, had taught me quite a bit about horses. She taught me how to feed them carrots without getting bit, how never to stand behind a horse, how to get them to lift their hooves and check for rocks that had gotten stuck inside, and how to brush them without touching the flank which would startle them. She also showed me where they most liked to be rubbed or scratched, and she introduced me to the wonder of the velvety soft spot between a horses nostrils. She taught me that horses could sometime startle for what seemed like no reason at all, that they were wild animals, sometimes loyal, sometimes unpredictable, always strong-willed and powerful. Wielding such power, or being on the back of such power, scared me a lot more than I liked to admit. I could never tell this to Aunt Jude who herself was wild, and strong, and beautiful with her sandy blond hair, and cowboy hats and skirts, and her bronze skin from always working outdoors, and a laugh that rasped in the best unladylike way. Since Patches was slow, fat, and old, I thought I'd become less afraid, more courageous around horses, but I didn't.
         When I wasn't being thrown from Patches by abrupt feeding urges, it took all my strength to pull her head up and away from a clump of grass and get her going again on rides with Rachel and Stormy. I'd have to pull and pull on Patches' reins, make clicking noises with my tongue, and tap her sides with my heels several times before she'd even consider leaving.  I found that it was just easier to wait until she had finished. And I learned to pull up on her reins the instant she had decimated the patch with her big, flat teeth. Meanwhile, Rachel and Stormy would be several yards ahead of us, only realizing that Patches had stopped and dumped me off her back or insisted on stopping and eating. Once I did get her going again by shaking the reins, clicking my tongue and tapping her near the flanks with my heels, I was usually only able to get her to trot which sent be bouncing up and down, my tail bone banging into the saddle, forcing me to shift to the side and nearly lose my balance.  I was beginning to realize that a pony didn't make getting to town that much faster than walking, and riding my bike was faster altogether. But there were times when Patches would almost gallop, out on the open land at the end of Apple Colony Road, where Rachel and I sometimes took the ponies, and where Aunt Jude had once rode with me on the back of her horse. Maybe it was the long stretch of wide dirt roads and being somewhere slightly unfamiliar and a desire to keep up with Stormy, but I was sometimes able to get Patches to go from a slow trot to a full-on gallop, and my hair would lift up off the back of my neck, and everything would rush past us, blurring as it slid by. It was like being inside time while everything else raced by.
         Rachel's pony Stormy had a dark side too, and it seemed like Rachel and I spent a lot of time chasing our ponies around the neighborhood after they'd somehow get loose from their tethers. One evening after doing a bit of riding, Rachel and I had the ponies in her yard and Stormy got loose. It was a warm summer night, and there were already a couple of stars twinkling in the eastern sky, the westward sky still providing a bit of light to navigate the weed-ridden yard. We first tried coaxing Stormy to us with a carrot but wound up chasing her all around the yard. Rachel worked one side of Stormy and I worked the other, both of us trying to catch her tether which trailed along on the ground. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Patches, head down, foraging for stray foliage inside Stormy's fenced off enclosure. And finally getting close to the end of Stormy's rope, I tripped and fell, immediately jumping back to my feet then everything went black. I had fainted, coming to a few seconds later tangled in barbed wire that made up Stormy's pin. Blood poured out of a hole at my hairline and down my forehead. There was blood and a hole in my chin, and a huge gash on my leg. Rachel, having caught Stormy just after I fell, scaring her enough to run in Rachel's direction, helped me to her house, where her mom, Joanne, famous for her blackberry pies, cleaned my wounds with hydrogen peroxide. Leaving Patches in Stormy's pin for the night, I went home holding a wet cloth to my head and band-aids on my chin and leg to cover the gashes from the barbed wire.
         A few weeks later, after riding to town, Rachel let me ride Stormy who inexplicably bucked me off and kicked me hard in the thigh. It made me wonder if Patches would ever do such a thing. She had tried to buck me off of her back once or twice, but she was too old and overweight to care to exert such force; the worse she ever did was send me flying over her neck when she'd stop to eat or bare her large teeth at me when I tried to get the metal bridal into her mouth. She wasn't, however, too old to keep from breaking loose from her tether and making her way back across town where she lived with the Delmer's before my mom bought her for me for Christmas. 
          The first time Patches ran off, my mom and I were in a panic. We ran down to Rachel's house, thinking that she might be hanging around near Stormy's pin, but she wasn't there, and after walking to town, looking into the shrubs or groves of trees where there might be patches of yummy green grass along the way, Mom had the idea to go across town to the Delmer's, and there she was with the other horses grazing on the tall dry weeds – she looked so content. I wondered how long it took her to get to her old pasture, plodding along at her own pace, stopping whenever she wanted to eat without interruption.
         The Delmer's were nice about giving Patches back to us.

         Mr. Delmer said, “Yeah, I saw her outside the pasture, eating and looking for a way back in, so I went and let her in, thinking you'd come around for her soon enough.”
         But these conversations, got shorter and shorter each time, and I began to dread having to go get her.
         “Yeah, she got up here early this morning. She was there when I got up to feed the horses.”
         It began to feel like we were being judged. Or maybe it was just that I felt bad that I couldn't keep her safe, couldn't tie her tether tight enough, didn't have a nice pasture, didn't have other horses to keep her company. But she did have alfalfa and a salt lick. Maybe Patches just didn't like me, didn't want me to ride her anymore, or fearfully force the bridle into her mouth, or try to make her gallop by shouting, and shaking the reins, and kicking her in the side.
         Eventually we stopped going back across town to bring Patches back home. My mom hadn't explained how giving Patches back to her original owners went down; we simply stopped going back to get her. And when Aunt Jude offered to allow me to ride her horse on my own, so I could get used to riding a full-sized equine, I declined. I had stopped drawing pictures of horses too, stopped collecting miniatures, their legs stuck in long strides, or a front leg lifted in an elegant prance, their mane always floating behind them. 
On our way to the river that next summer, I saw Patches grazing in the large pasture. I could see her black, white, and brown spots as we passed by, and I looked away with shame for feeling such relief.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Me and My Flat Tire

           Most kids in Tuolumne knew that once their favorite Christmas toy ran out of batteries or they broke all their new crayons, it was going to be a long time before they got new ones. The same went for a flat bike tire. One of my first bikes was a boy's moto-cross bike. It was neon green with thick nubby tires and a removable Velcro crash pad. I felt tough when I rode that bike. The sound of the nubby tires grinding along the light gravel where the pavement ends at the bottom of the hill in front of our house encouraged me to pedal as hard as I could before hitting the breaks hard, sending up a cloud of dust small bits of gravel all around me as I skidded and swerved to a dramatic stop.
            Recalling a song I had heard on the radio a few times, I sometimes just rode around or headed for town with the words to the song tumbling around in my head as I soared past every large rock and tree I knew by heart along the road to town, passed the field of bachelor buttons that I sometimes picked for my mom, and up toward Mean Irene’s house, passed one of the places where my old friend Sammie had lived, my long hair lifting off my neck as I jammed down the hill before slowing to take the sharp corner on the street at the back of the baseball field: “I want to ride my bicycle/I want to ride my bike/I want to ride my bicycle/I want to ride it where I like.”
            After many miles on the already worn tires, I found the front tire flat  as I was about to jump on and take off down the driveway. Deflated, I reasoned that I had probably ran over of one of those thick pointy thorns, and the tire had developed a slow leak a term that I heard adults use for car tires that were filled several times a day in order to get around town or to Sonora and back, rather than replaced. No longer able to tell the difference between spring and summer and determined to get back on the road as soon as possible, I asked Moms friend T-Bill if he could take it to his shop and fix it for me. T-Bill rented a garage space downtown Tuolumne where he fixed cars, making money under the table to support his various habits. All the kids loved T-Bill; he liked to make jokes and laugh mightily, and he often spoke in funny voices when talking to us kids to get us to laugh along with him. T-Bill got his name because when he was young, he liked Thunderbirds -- used to steal them and other cars which is how he learned his trade as a mechanic.
            Pulling his long dark hair, back into a pony tail, he said, Sure, Michelle, Ill fix your bike tire for you, in his trademark funny voice that sounded like the voices of the Three Stooges all combined into one. I ran to find a wrench that I thought was the right size and brought the bike to the front of the house. With the keys hanging from his belt jingling, T-Bill stepped out of the house, a cigarette hanging from his mouth. He was like a hippy burnout version of Schneider on One Day at a Time, and he knew it. Hed pop in to see my mom whenever one or the other of them had a spare joint to share. I handed him the wrench, and he kneeled down on the front step where the bike listed at a diagonal on its funny little kickstand.
            You even got me the right size, T-Bill said, squinting up at me, the sun a shock to his blood shot eyes.
            I just want to get it fixed before summer is over, I said, taking the opportunity to hint at what a hurry I was in. Everyone who left their wheels with T-Bill knew that not paying what youd would to get your car fixed in Sonora, meant a lot of waiting. T-Bill didnt rush his work. If one of his favorite episodes of Star Trek was on, he wasnt going to be making his way down to the shop until it was over, and if another one came on after that, he may not have made it down there at all. Then there was the thing about the parts. If your vehicle needed a part that he didnt likely have in his makeshift garage in town, then hed have to drive to Sonora to get it, and if his own car wasnt working, then youd just have to wait until it was. Do you need me to get some money for the tube from my mom? I asked reaching out my hand, offering to hold the washer and nut he had finally worked off the bolt.
            Nah, your mom already took care of that, he said, yanking the tire
off the bike.
            He handed me the tire and asked where he should put the bike. I pointed to the shed that was up a small slope about twenty feet from the house where the wood to burn in winter was kept. I watched, holding the nubby tire in my hand, as he carried the bike, his keys jingling along the way.
            Okay, Cheryl, add - ios, he shouted toward the house. Mom hollered a loud goodbye in return, as he began walking toward the driveway.
            T-Bill, dont forget the tire, I said.
            Chuckling, he said in his Three Stooges voice, You thought I forgot about your tire?
            Not wanting to doubt him, I smiled and handed him the tire, saying, Thank you, T-Bill. Thanks for fixing my bike.
            Walking down the driveway toward his beat up old sedan, he said, Dont thank me yet!
            What seemed like weeks and weeks passed before I got my tire back. How hard could it be to fix a bike tube? How long could that take? Maybe I could have done it myself? I mean, I didnt mind walking, but the days were getting longer and Mom didnt seem to care if I didnt get inside the house until 8:30 or so, as long as I wasnt wearing my school clothes outside and as long as it wasnt dark. As if I had any business in town near the triad of bars in between which T-Bills shop sat, stooping to the side, too old to stand up straight, I found myself cruising by on foot. If the garage door was open, Id slow my walk, nearly stopping and force my eyes to adjust to the dark quickly. Straining to see, Id look for T-Bills shape tall, square-shouldered, long dark pony tale. Sometimes his big black steel-toed boots would be poking out from under some car with a dented bumper.
            Hi, T-Bill, Id say when I was sure he was there, hoping hed remember that my tire was fixed and stored away in some corner, waiting for me to come for it. Sometimes T-Bill wasnt at the shop at all and the heavy door would be closed, my bike tire abandoned and locked away.
            After several weeks, I took to asking my mom about my tire. Mom do you think my tire is fixed yet? or Do you think T-Bill has fixed my tire? But her answer was always the same, I dont know, Michelle. I knew better to keep asking. I didnt want to hear her go off on some long tirade about how T-Bill was supposed to finish fixing some friends car and how that car was sitting outside the shop without a carburetor, the old one sitting on the ground rusted and useless, when the car was actually drivable before she left it with him. These tirades were full of different angry versions of the F word and somehow felt directed at me. Id listen politely, feeling a bit like I was being held captive then do anything I could to make her forget that I had asked about the bike.
            Is the laundry on the clothesline dry? Do you want me to take it down?
If there was laundry on the clothesline that was dry, she’d say, “Yeah, what are you waiting for?”
            Trying not to sulk, I’d head outside toward the back of the house where the sun baked down on the yard most of the day, and I’d pull stiff jeans and crunchy socks off the line, hitting away the pointy black earwigs that fell from the clothes, a sign that the clothes had been on the line already for a day or more.
            I couldnt say how long it actually took for T-Bill to fix my bike tire, definitely longer than necessary. He had visited the house several times since he took my tire to his shop, but I didnt always have the nerve to ask if he happened to finish fixing it, fearing the disappointment of being told that he was still working on it. One day when he came over on his motorcycle, I figured I had a good reason for asking. Like I was always told to do when Mom had company, I went outside and wandered around the yard, kicking at green acorns that had fallen from the trees long enough to where Mom wouldnt send me back out then I went inside. Mom was sitting in her favorite chair and Bill was sitting nearby on the couch.
            What do you want? Mom asked, noticing I was sitting there quietly
waiting for my turn to speak.
            Um, I was just wondering about my bike, I said looking at T-Bill with
an encouraging smile.
            Your bike? he said. You wanna know about your bike? He shifted his feet, causing his keys to jingle lightly.
            Yeah. Did you get a chance to fix the tire yet?
            As a matter of fact, I did, but I havent gotten a chance to get over to the gas station to air it up. My air compressor broke down on me.
            All it needs air?
            Just some air and its ready.
            Can I do it? I can put the air in, cant I? I mean, its not too hard is it?
            T-Bill laughed, Nah, its not hard. All you gotta do is take the tire to the gas station and use the air there. Just make sure you dont overfill it, or it will pop.
            Can I come down later and pick the tire up, I asked, looking to T-Bill then to my mom for permission.
            Sure, Ill be back down there after I have some lunch up at the house.   
            Lunch and couple of episodes of Star Trek, I knew better than to rush to town.  
            I strained my ears for an hour or so, listening for the sound of Bills motorcyle going by on the road above our house, down the big hill, and toward town. When I thought I heard it go by, I figured it would be safe to head out slowly. I didnt even cut through the yard and pass by the Indian grinding rocks just off our property; instead I walked all the way down the driveway, kicking rocks as if I had nowhere important to be. Turning right and heading up the small hill, in front of moms house, just above where the pavement ends, I caught myself walking too fast, and forced myself to slow down. I thought about when my brother and I still had a big wheel, wed take turns going as fast as we could down the hill in front of our to see could skid the longest after getting going real fast and yanking the metal break just before the pavement ended. That hill was where tried out every new bike or remote control toy my brother got for Christmas.  Cars didnt come down the road too often, so it was a pretty safe place to play.
I stopped at the corner of Bodenhammer and looked into the small creek where all the rainwater drained during winter; it was dry and cracked – a Mohawk of blond weeds grew up through the middle. “I want to ride my …,” I forced the words of the bicycle song out of my head because I knew it would get me walking faster, and I was determined not to have to wait around for T-Bill anymore. I slowed my pace again as I neared the larger opening of another creek and looked for the little gleaming red racer snakes that my brother and I often found there, or racing across the street, or sometimes smashed by a car. They were the size of a plastic snake found in a child’s party favor bag, and they were a shiny silver and red with stripes like a sports car. Cool to the touch and friendly, when we’d find them they’d become our pets until Mom would make us put them back near the creek where we found them before they died from being held too much. Because it had already happened, we knew she was right. Relieved that there were no snakes to be found, I kept walking toward town, realizing that I needed to keep my hands free for riding my bike. Where was I going to put a little snake?
         I decided to turn onto Main Street early, instead of following Oak Street, which runs parallel and down the big hill past Mean Irene’s house. Main Street was always a bit busier and there wasn’t a sidewalk or much shoulder to walk on for a stretch, but it was better than passing by Irene’s on foot. Who knew what kind of mood she’d be in or whether she liked me on that particular day.  It was easy to walk slowly along this stretch on the shoulder, which isn’t really a shoulder at all, and was filled with thistle that scratched and poked your ankles if you went by too fast or carelessly. One block down, only one block from town where the thistles had been cut back. Just then, I noticed that I was now walking at a much faster pace. I allowed myself to run across the street to where the sidewalk began in front of the baseball field then I went back to walking as if I were bored and had no particular place to be. I started to worry about what T-Bill had said about blowing up the tire myself. It could pop if I wasn’t careful. It could pop. I couldn’t stand for that to happen. I just had to be careful; not being careful would mean I’d have to spend all this time waiting on adults all over again.
         I thought about an expression that I had heard my mom use many times: “If you want something done right. Do it yourself.” The expression, I knew, didn’t quite fit my situation. All this waiting wasn’t about getting something done right; it was about getting something done at all. If I wanted something done, I was going to have to do it myself. The adults they never took me seriously. What was important to me seemed trivial to them. Without realizing it, I was coming to understand some important things about adults. There were two types: the type who made a bunch of promises and didn’t keep them and the type who kept their promises but took their time making good on them because what kids wanted wasn't as important.

       Nearing T-Bill’s shop, I picked up the pace. The heavy door was open, and I could hear T-Bill talking to someone. Seeing me as I walked up to the door he stopped his conversation with some dude with long hair wearing a baseball cap.
         “Here for your tire? Let me get it,” he said to me grabbing the tire from a nearby table and handing it to me. “Be careful filling it up.”
         “I know -- it could pop. I’ll be careful,” I said, ready to get going again.
         “Are you sure you don’t want me to come over there with you? I’d just need to finish up here,” he said pointing a wrench toward the guy in the baseball hat.
         “I’m sure. Thanks T-Bill,” I said.
         “Who’s going to help you put the tire back on?” he asked, as I was about to get on my way.
         “I can do it,” I said, trying to picture myself doing it with the same wrench I had found for him when he took the tire off at least a few weeks back.
         “Okay,” T-Bill chuckled, “Just be sure to get it on there tight.”
         “I will. Thanks. Bye.”

I practically sprinted up the big hill, the biggest in town, on my way to the gas station. My mind was racing and I was out of breath when I got there, but I slowed down enough to get the air in the tire in quick jerky blasts from the compressor hose. When the tire seemed firm enough, but not too tight, I headed for home, only about fifteen minute walk for someone with short legs, walking with purpose.
         I began to jog once I got to the last little hill that went down in front of our driveway. I jogged down the hill, careful not to whack my leg with the now heavy tire, then made a left and jogged up the driveway. I could see my bike leaning sadly against the house. I had moved it out of the shed a couple of weeks previous in anticipation of having the tire fixed much sooner. As I got closer, I saw that it was covered in dust and fine yellow pollen that came from the oak trees that towered around the yard. Realizing that I would need the wrench again, I went inside and pulled it out of the drawer where I had stored it, and grabbed an old dirty rag from another kitchen drawer.
         “Hi Mom, I’m home,” I shouted toward the empty front room on my way back outside. She must be in the bathroom, or sleeping, I thought to myself.
         It must have been about 4:00 or so by this time, but I wasn’t thinking about time. I just wanted back on that bike. The sun would be up for a few more hours and that’s all that mattered. No curfew until the verge of sundown and a bad ass looking bike equaled freedom.
         Back at the bike, I quickly went to work unloosening the nut that T-Bill had screwed back on the tire bolt for safekeeping. Sitting down on the ground, with the tire between my knees, I reminded myself to work more slowly because I didn’t want to mess up. If I worked too fast, I knew I risked stripping the bolt, which would keep the nut from staying in place. More slowly now, I turned the wrench, working the nut toward the end of the bolt until it fell off into my hand. I took one finger and wound it around the bolt feeling the raised grooves for myself. They had not been flattened or damaged in any way. Standing up, I set the tire down and turned the bike upside down, as I had seen others do. It stood in place anchored to the ground by the seat and the handlebars. Now getting the tire back on would be easy. I slid the bolt into the U shaped groove and took the nut that I had been holding tightly to in my hand all this time, and I began to screw it back on the bolt. I began working the nut inward with my fingers then picked up the wench to get some leverage on it. And when I thought I gotten that nut on tight enough, I wiped the bike down with an old cloth from the kitchen, nearly restoring it to its original splendor. I did it, I thought.  Then I hopped on, keeping my legs up as the front tire wobbled to balance then I peddled off down the driveway. I took a left at the bottom of the driveway, and avoiding the pothole where the pavement ends, I tested the tire on the bumpy gravel. I went down a ways past the first clumpy row of blackberry bushes, made a U-turn then skidded to a stop. Getting back on and turning my legs as hard and as fast as they could go, I sped to the top of the hill just to the first little creek then made a U-turn there -- now for my final test run before riding to town. 
         I stalled, a bit nervous. What are you worried about? You finally have your bike back; now get on it and ride. Shaking off the nerves, I put both legs back up on the pedals and began to pedal with all my nine year old might. I was flying – past the tree near the Indian grinding stone, past the weeds, past the driveway in front of our house, the oak tree, and wham, hit the pothole where the cement ends at about ten miles per hour. In a split second the tire separated from the bike and I went flying too, right over the handlebars and onto my face. Stunned that I had seen myself flying through the air, a sort of out of body experience, and that my face was now covered in gravel and blood and that my lip had instantly begun to swell, I stayed for a few seconds on my hands and knees half hoping that someone would come to my rescue and half hoping that no one had seen the embarrassing results of my new found do-it-yourself spirit.
         Shamed and in pain and crying, I somehow managed to drag the bike to the side of the rode where it wouldn’t get run over and made my way up the driveway to the house. Hearing my cries, my mom came running quickly to the front door.
         “Michelle, what happened?” She looked rather surprised to see me bleeding and with a freakishly fat lip.
         Though sobbing and hiccupping, I managed to tell her about my mishap.  I wanted to be saying any other words than the ones I had to say in that moment, to have to admit that I had screwed up. And by this time my brother had come around and was leaping about, pointing and laughing at my misshapen mouth. Trying not to crack a smile herself, my mom took me inside where she carefully washed the dirt from my wounds, not saying a word about how I should have let an adult help me get that tire on good and tight.