Deep South – Deep North: The Bicycle- 1949

In this second of four excerpts from her book, Deep South – Deep North: A Family’s Journey, published in 2018, Ridgeway native Lottie B. Scott tells both the heartbreaking and triumphant tale of her maturation into adulthood against a racially-charged, impoverished, yet fiercely loving backdrop in Longtown, S.C.

The Bicycle – 1949

At the time Mama was pregnant with Josephine, I was nearly thirteen, Freddie was just short of twelve, and Saul was eleven. There was still work to be done. All through her last months of pregnancy, Mama did the plowing and other chores. Josephine was born on August 8, 1949. Daddy asked that this daughter be named Josephine. He had lost early battles to name a son for him; Mama always objected, saying there were too many Josephs in the family. This time they were in agreement.

As the baby of the family, Josephine was special from the start. She became Mama’s companion on long drives around the countryside. No one knew where they went, as Mama refused to tell and no one could bribe Josephine to tell.

Times had been hard for our family. Daddy was still unable to work, as he was still recovering from surgery. I was recovering from rheumatic fever. In addition to the farming, during the winter months, Freddie assisted Mama with washing clothes and cutting firewood, which involved scraping ice off the fallen trees before cutting them to fireplace length. Freddie was right when he proclaimed he had worked for as long as he could remember.

Saul was expected to willingly follow in Freddie’s footsteps. He, too, had the chore of plowing the fields, but unlike Freddie, he complained vehemently, saying the ground was too hard. Saul did not apply the full manual strength needed to dig the plow deep into the red clay earth, and hold it there sufficiently long to break the earth apart and till acres of land. No amount of coaching could get him to do this laborious work in the manner needed.

When Mama threatened Saul with a whipping, you knew he was in for a memorable one. We children knew from experience that you did not want a whipping from Mama. The large, stinging switch would make an ordinary person shiver in pain just looking at it. Saul was not moved by the threat of a whipping, however. Mama, not to be outdone by her child, threatened him with death. Saul calmly told her he didn’t care if she killed him, saying he would not have to plow. Now Mama was upset. She thought, “What kind of fool child have I given birth to?” It was time for a new strategy. Little did she know, Saul had his own plan.

He promised he would work hard if he got a new bike. So a deal was struck between a determined mother and her stubborn son. At harvest time, Saul received his new bike. He was filled with joy. He had accomplished his goal, a feat many boys desired but were too fearful to attempt: extort from a parent a bike for doing what others were told they must do without compensation.

Saul got his new bike, and off he went, peddling at high speed, kicking up red dust along the way, and nearly knocking down old man Dave. The old man yelled to Saul: “You are not going to have good luck with that bike.” Saul yelled back, “I am sorry,” and continued on his way. On Saul’s return from the store, Mr. Dave stood in the middle of the road, and as Saul prepared to go past him, he yelled, “Stop!” And Saul did. Mr. Dave told Saul he had struck him and not apologized. Mr. Dave pointed his finger at the bike and repeatedly said to Saul, “You will never have good luck with the bike.” Within days, the bike began to come apart, first one thing and then another. It could not be repaired. The children were convinced that Mr. Dave’s spell caused the bike’s deterioration.

Not long afterward, the neighbors gathered at Mr. Dave’s house. Mr. Dave had been killed when he was thrown by his mule, Danger, so named for his stubborn and combative behavior. Mr. Dave and Danger had similar personality traits, and people whispered that it appeared Danger got the best of Mr. Dave in their tug of war. One neighbor even suggested that Mr. Dave would be back to settle his score with Danger.

The children gathered outside and discussed the adults’ comments. Each child had a story to tell of an encounter with Mr. Dave. He was described as the meanest man who ever lived and ever died. He terrorized the children with threats of casting spells upon them. He told how he could turn them into rocks, turtles, foxes, or rabbits if he wanted to and that they would never see their parents or friends again. He dared them to cross him or step on the side of the road where his house stood. Every child dreaded when it was his or her turn to go to the store, for there was no other way except to pass Mr. Dave’s house. They would tremble with fear and pray he would not be on his porch.

Now that Mr. Dave had died, Saul felt good and thought it was about time the evil old man had croaked. When he told Sammy and Buster how he felt, they warned him that Mr. Dave might return, just as the adults said he would. Saul shrugged his shoulders, said no one returned from the dead, and went home.

Late in the night, Saul heard a knocking, first lightly and then louder. It grew louder and louder, but no one else seemed to hear it. The dogs did not bark and Daddy kept snoring. Saul wondered what was making the noise. Then he recalled that Sammy and Buster said that dead people could return, and no one but the person they were making contact with could see or hear them. He began to shiver. Could Mr. Dave be paying him a visit? The knocking grew louder still, and he was sure he heard footsteps on the back steps, yet still there were no sounds from the dogs and his father’s snoring continued uninterrupted. Saul’s heart began to pound, the bed started shaking, and he began to sweat. No! No! It can’t be Mr. Dave!  Just then the bedroom door slammed shut, and he jumped up in his bed, screaming and begging Mr. Dave not to take him away. Mama and Daddy rushed to his side and calmed him down. Daddy closed the window as Mama got Saul a glass of milk. Everyone returned to bed.

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