by Madeline Laughs
My older brother David rode his bicycle everywhere. I can’t remember a time when he didn’t ride his bike. He rode it to work, to go out to bars, to shop, to church and he even rode it to visit relatives and friends that lived in other states.
Today he would be lauded as a cyclist, but when we were growing up, David was called a weirdo for riding his bike as much as he did. I thought his bike, with it’s big comfortable seat and the gobs of reflectors on the back, with it’s headlight and gawky side mirrors, was the most amazing thing I ever saw. When I got bigger, I wanted a bike just like his. It even had a horn!
He hated cars. Riding to church in the backseat with him was like riding with a wild animal. I’m not sure what it was about cars that disturbed him so much, but he would curl into a tight ball right up against the car door and even hold the handle as we rode along. As soon as we stopped at our destination he would bolt out of the car like a slingshot rock.
Waiting to get back in the car after church, David would lean on the bumper and chain smoke cigarettes out of nervousness. Yeah, he smoked like a chimney. Can you imagine pedaling the long distances he did and being a smoker? He must have had a set of lungs on him the size of Miami!
David had big, blue eyes, just like me. He was very tall and had perfectly straight teeth and a head full of unruly dark hair, peppered with gray. His skin was always tanned from being outside on his bike and his body was rock hard muscle. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on him anywhere. With his movie star good looks you would think he would be a real ladies man, but I never knew him to have to be much of a ladies man.
That could be because David wasn’t a very social being. The best way I can describe him is to compare him with Billy Bob Thornton‘s character, Slingblade. Except David wasn’t a serial killer. But the mannerisms were pretty much dead on.
There was nothing mentally wrong with David, or maybe there was. I think he might have suffered from a form of autism, but back then he was just seen as being odd. I didn’t care. He was my big brother and I thought he was the coolest dude I knew.
On Fridays when he got his paycheck he would always buy some little present for me and hide it under my pillow. I remember once getting a tiny purse. It was one of the wooden box purses that closed with a latch and it had an owl painted on the front of it in gold. The eyes were these two huge plastic, faceted gems glued on. He told me it reminded him of me with my great big blue eyes always starring at him across the dinner table.
David loved to drink beer. He would ride his bike down to his favorite bar and tie one on occasionally. This drove my grandmother crazy! She wasn’t worried about him being drunk. She wasn’t worried about him trying to ride his bike home after drinking a 12 pack. Nope! She was worried about what he would do to embarrass her.
David also used to give all of his money away at the bar. He was a walking ATM for everyone’s hard luck story. After months of never having a cent to his name, my grandmother started making my grandfather drive down to the office every Friday to pick up David’s paycheck. He opened a bank account that David could not access and deposited his paycheck, taking out an allowance that David could spend any way he wanted to.
One night he pushed my grandmother way past her limitations and embarrassed her beyond belief. He not only pulled the embarrassing prank, he also got it published in the local newspaper in the Police Blotter so all of her friends at church could read it.
Wobbling along on his bike down the center line of the highway, David realized he had to take a leak. He paid no heed to the police cruiser that had been slowly following him for the last mile or so and plunked his bike on the road, dropped trou and whizzed right out in the open for everyone to see.
David was no stranger to the local cops. They had followed him home before after waking my grandfather in the wee hours to let him know that David was drunk and riding his bike again. Sometimes my grandfather would just go and pick him up to avoid the hassle.
That night the local popo decided they needed to teach David a lesson. They waited until he had relieved himself and walked up to him. “David, we’re going to have to take you in now for indecent exposure son.” I can imagine my brother. I know he smiled, probably even giggled. He went with them with no fuss at all. They put him in the back of the patrol car and loaded his bike into the trunk and took him to the station.
He used his one phone call to wake my grandfather, “I’m in jail! Come get me!”, but my grandmother was having none of it! “Dellie, this is the last straw! We’re leaving him in there and maybe it will be the medicine he needs in order to straighten up and fly right!” My grandfather wasn’t happy about this at all, but he honored her wishes.
David stayed in jail until his court hearing and was sentenced to serve 4 weeks in the local jailhouse or pay a fine. My grandfather controlled David’s bank account and at the behest of my grandmother, the fine was not to be paid. David had embarrassed her for the last time. He was going to serve his sentence.
I was a little girl then, so jail meant nothing to me. Every Sunday during visiting hours, when the inmates were allowed to go out into the fenced yard where the picnic tables were, I begged and pleaded to go and see him. My grandmother always had to go with me and I made her pack sandwiches and sweetened tea in a thermos for me and David to enjoy during our visits. To me, this was great fun!
Being in jail did straighten him up. He stopped drinking beer. He stopped going to bars and giving his paycheck away every weekend. He rode his bike to work and then back home everyday and he started going to church every Sunday. He was still the same happy, grinning David and I think he was getting happier everyday.
David was killed one summer evening at dusk in 1969. He was riding his bike home, the sun was just starting to set. I’m sure he was marveling at the pink and purple sky and listening to the crickets chirp, when it happened. I’m sure he was smiling too because he always smiled.
A car came barreling down the highway. It had to have been going very fast. It clipped the back of his bicycle and sent his big body careening over the handle bars, sliding face first down the pavement before he rolled over into the ditch and finally rested on his back.
That’s how the police found him that morning at 2AM.
When they made their normal rounds down our street they saw pieces of David’s bicycle, some pieces now familiar to them after all these years. They knew he hadn’t made it out alive. They knew that for his bike to be scattered this far, this wide, that David must have died on impact.
They never caught the person that hit him.
My brother rode a bike. And I loved him for it.
My brother rode a bike. And I honor him for it.
My brother rode a bike. And I miss him.
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