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The greener grass of Albion, a short story, Part 2
In those days, the most logical way for a French youngster to make his way to the British Isles was through school programs, that would send students the other side of the English Channel to reside with an English family. Either two weeks at Easter or four weeks during the summer. A respectable number of my friends had benefited from the exchange program form the start., and they had all come back with wonderful stories to keep my dream alive. True, you had to account for some "embellishment" to the actual account of what really happened, especially when it came to encounters with English girls, but I chose to elect there was some truth to it. My friends tales magnified my desire to go there even more, would that be possible. But being the oldest of four children of a car factory worker, with a stay at home mother, it wasn't very difficult to figure there was no slack in the family budget that could possibly accomodate my fantasy. I was so convinced of it that I never even asked. But that doesn't mean the dream died! On the contrary. The same way pretty much every law has a loophole, there was to be a way to work my way around this. I had inherited one major quality from my lovely parents : creativity! So now was the time to put on my thinking cap.
Back then, not everyone had a telephone in their homes. I know we didn't. So, the way for people to communuicate in times of emergency was through telegrams. It was actually so popular at the time, that the local post office had hired a young man full time to deliver those telegrams to people's houses. So, many times a day, as we lived just down the street from the post office, we would first hear, then see that man riding his small motorbike at a frightening speed pass right in front of our house. The guy was my hero, but everyone else hated his guts. Concerned mothers of young children feared their progeniture could be maimed. Older people complained about the screeching noise from his bike. Even my own mother made the prediction that, someday, he would get his due.
The man was serving a humanitarian purpose to the community, announcing newborn babies coming into the world and the passing of distant relatives. To me, he was the incarnation of freedom, everytime I saw him ride by on his fast machine. Nobody, including me, knew his real name. He was known to all as "the telgraphist", which was quite improper since he didn't operate the telegraph himself. The fact that he was suspected of being a Gypsy, and wearing long hair, didn't contribute to his popularity. Now, we're talking pre-Beatles era here, so nobody, and I mean nobody, wore long hair. Unless you were a girl! The fact that he was living in an old caravan on an emtpy lot somewhere on the outskirts of town was viewed by many as highly suspicious, even though he shared the space with his mother. And since there was apparently no father around, it was easy to assume that his mother had him out of wedlock, always a possibility, but no one could establish that with certainty. So, he was not one of "us"!
As usual, Mom turned out to be right, even though I'm sure she would have preferred to be wrong on this one. On a rainy day, the telegraphist met his fate!. Some old geezer ran a stop sign while the telegraphist was going full speed down the steep hill leading to the train station. Being young, he had excellent reflex, so he swerved around the guilty car to avoid collision. Unfortunately, in the process, he lost both his balance and the control of his machine and ended up crashing quite forcefully into a concrete fence separating the railroad track from the road. When they picked him up, nearly every bone in his body was broken, but he had miraculously survived. But the loss of income from him being out of work for a while must have brought hardship. The first time I met him in person, I had walked the three miles from our house to his caravan. His mother let me in, and after all the negative gossip I had heard about these people, I was quite amazed to discover a neat and well organized interior. It was probably my first encounter with people who had less than my own family, just because statistically, they were not that many of them! His Mom offered me a glass of lemonade, which she placed on the only table, after she removed a vase holding fresh roses. What kind of bad people would offer you a glass of lemonade ? I found it ironic and rather silly that those two were the people preventing a whole town from sleeping well at night. His name was Pierre, but he liked to go by the nickname of Pedro. I was happy to oblige. I didn't beat around the bush either and quickly asked what became of his bike. His mother answered my question, saying that the damn thing (her words) was laying behing the caravan, waitiing for the scap metal man to pick it up.
I said I was prepared to make an offer to purchase the remains of the machine. She told me I could have it as her son wouldn't be in condition to ride the damn thing (she said it again) anymore. I learned two important lessons in life that day. First, it is absolutely true that someone trash is somebody else's treasure. I had just experienced that. And second, free is good, especially when you have no or very little money. I think it is fair too say that Pedro and I became friends on the spot. I wished I could have had a good handshake with him to seal the deal, but both his arms were cast in plaster all the way down to his nails. Maybe next time ! Because there was no doubt in my mind there would be a next time.
Back home, I told my parents about my new acquisition and a gap the size of the Grand Canyon opened up between them! Mother was rightfully worried, immediately thinking the worse, jumping to the unlikely conclusion that I would end up like Pedro. Maybe even worse! As in dead! Dad was more subtle about the whole thing. Of course, he was worried too, but like me, he saw opportunities for his oldest son to do some growing up. Through the process of rebuilding the bike, I would learn new skills, and being the Dad he was, he offered his help, which brought a big sigh of relief from me. With father's backing, everything was now possible. The gamble had paid. Not only he would let me borrow his tools, but he would advise me and help along. I wasted no time and everyday after school, and on most week-ends, I worked on my Mobylette. Dad did the most difficult part, which was to weld a 'new" front half to the "damn thing", front half which had been luckily obtained from the local scapyard. Dad had also paid for the parts, asking me to keep quiet about it, but I don't think we fooled anybody. I sanded the whole frame and brushed some eggplant color left over lacquer my father had kept from some odd job he had done earlier. All right, when we bolted the orange original fuel tank back on the bike, the combination of colors looked odd. But that was the least of my concerns.
On a Saturday morning, when pouring rain prevented us to do anything else, my father and I locked ourselves in the garage and reinstalled the engine and wheels on the newly painted Mobylette frame, while listening to a small transistor radio. Music was one of the rare things Dad and I couldn't agree on. But we settled on a radio station that played a mix of old and new, so we were both happy. He told me he had just taught me the art of compromising that day, which is probably why he was shaking his head disapprovingly any time a modern song would play. Mom knew better than wasting her time calling us in for lunch, so she brought us a plate of sandwiches to the garage, along with a glass of beer for dad and lemonade for me. It was a glorious day for me and I could tell Father was enjoying it as much as I did. A day both of us would remember forever. And suddenly the project was completed. Dad insisted on riding the bike first, just in case something wouldn't hold as expected. He looked goofy and funny riding up and down our street several times before finally letting me enjoy MY bike.Except for a minor carburetor adjustment, the machine was up and running, and just like its proud owner, ready to conquer the world.
To be continued...
Copyright 2012 by Austinhealy, his heirs and assigns.
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