When I was little I lived on a street full of kids that were all around my age. It was really a great street to grow up on for that reason alone, even if we didn’t all get along all of the time.
One of our favorite past times was riding our bicycles around the neighborhood, I was not allowed off of our street, I could only ever ride from corner to corner but there were times when I would sneak my way around the block.
There was a young couple who lived near us and they had not had any children of their own yet and looking back I would have to say they were in their early 20’s… the wife “Olga” would sit outside and talk to us and play with us, mostly with me. I was drawn to their house because her husband was a trumpet player in a salsa band (they were both from Puerto Rico) and my father was also from PR so I loved the music and could hear him practice in the summer when the windows were open.
I would walk or ride my bike over to their apartment and sit outside their door on the stoop just to listen to him practice. I always got in trouble because I was supposed to stay in sight where my mom could see me and so as soon as I heard my name being yelled I had to leave but there were a couple times Olga saw me out there and would invite me in and that was the best to be able to actually see him play.
She had a bicycle and rode it around the neighborhood and took all the kids on little bike rides but I was never allowed to go…I was determined to go with them all this one day though so I didn’t tell anyone and just got at the end of the line and followed them as they rode a few blocks away to the parking lot of a local elementary school. Everyone got off of their bikes and started climbing this massive mulberry tree… so I did too. I had never done that before, I had never even seen a mulberry tree before so I had no idea that I was leaving evidence all over myself of where I had been.
I remember that I was 9 years old because of the gym uniform top I was wearing that I ruined. When I came around the corner as we rode back to our houses I saw my mother standing at the front door, she saw me.. I was busted. We lived right near the corner, there was no way to hide or lie about leaving our block now. When I got home I quietly rode my bike to the garage and put it away and before I knew it my grandmother was standing at the back door with a cross look on her face. “Where have you been?” she asked with a sternness in her voice, I knew I was in trouble. “Just riding bikes with the kids” I replied
She opened the door and held it open and said “Get in the house” the fear was in me, I am pretty sure I was shaking. She stopped me on the back porch and looked at me, I think her jaw fell open as she looked me up and down and before she said anything else to me she yelled to my mom “Crystal! Come look at this”
My mom came to the porch as my grandmother pointed out that my shoes, my clothes and even my scalp was stained blood red/purple… You tell me where you were right now! She said almost yelling, her voice so full of anger that I started to cry. “I was just riding bikes with everyone, we followed Olga to the school and everyone climbed the tree I whimpered.”
She made me take my shoes off and then took me to the bathroom to disrobe and put me in the tub and tried to scrub the mulberry stains from my hands and scalp. My clothes were ruined and my shoes were stained, we were poor and so I had to wear those stained shoes but she had to replace my gym uniform. I can understand now why she was so upset, not just because we were poor and she couldn’t afford to replace my clothes and shoes but because for however long I was gone she was worried. When they yelled my name and I didn’t pop out of someone’s driveway they had no way of knowing where I was.
Those were the days before cell phones, the days when you came inside when the street lights came on and you didn’t roam further than your moms voice could yell because you had to hear her OR ELSE. I miss those days sometimes; things were so much simpler in a lot of ways… of course there is a convenience to technology that I love now but I love living in the days before we had all of this… I love knowing a life before computers, cell phones, and social media… it makes me cherish the memories of my youth even more.
I never rode with Olga again, they moved the following summer and I never got to hear her husband play his trumpet or ride bikes with her again, I was sad when they left for a long while…even thinking about them now I wonder what happened to them. I wish I knew their last names so I could look them up. I wonder if we reside in her memory or left as much of an impact as they did on mine. Where ever they are I am glad they are part of my most cherished memories.
Thank you for the mulberry stains Olga, if not for those stains I might not have remembered our adventures … thank you where ever you are.