Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Jay Baby's Harley

I think I have mentioned this before, but some of my childhood, including my early teens, took place in south Mississippi. My family moved around more than most from this area, so I had some knowledge of life outside the county lines. I lived in town (although town was not what it is today) and many of my relatives still lived on what was left of small family farms. The era was mid to late fifties, and early sixties. I loved my trips to the country. I explored the woods, hunted, fished, swam, did farm chores, and experienced life in more ways than any "city boy" ever would. People from the rural South were for the most part poor, and even people with money rarely travelled as they do today. I was coming of age, and many of the lessons I learned about life involved asking questions about what two farm animals were doing. My parents recognized my curiosity, but they responded in more veiled terms than those used today. I was cautioned not to pay too much attention to any female relatives closer than third cousin. I required more explanation on this point since I had some pretty good looking ones in the first and second cousin range. But, I eventually got the idea and any future introductions to relatives I didn't know came with a statement of their relationship to my root stock. I was also cautioned that any serious consideration of a mate should not include Catholics, Yankees, or Republicans. So, when I say Jay Baby was my third cousin you will understand why I was conscious of that. Now, most of us were poor by today's standard of measurement, but Jay Baby, the youngest male in the family of Joe May and Vergie, was poor. I remember going to his house down a sandy lane that ran off the only paved road in the area and seeing his mother sitting on the front porch in her sun bonnet, probably resting from an early morning trip to the vegetable garden. The house was a small wood frame structure and it was very sparsely furnished. Jay Baby slept on a mattress on the floor with no sheets. There were no other furnishings in his room. The house had electricity, but no running water or indoor plumbing. So, it was a big surprise to everyone when Jay Baby came up with an old war surplus Harley Davidson motorcycle. He was older than I was by several years, but he was small in stature, probably in the neighborhood of 135 pounds. The Harley did not have an electric starter and required a pretty stiff jump on the kick starter to turn the engine over. Jay Baby had some visible bruising from being thrown by the kick starter into or over the handlebars. However he was mighty proud and totally fearless on the big bike. We, heard the roar of the Harley before we caught brief glimpses of Jay Baby flying down the paved road clinging to the handlebars with his stringy hair pushed straight back in the wind. He looked like a dragon fly riding a Buffalo. Everyone worried for his safety. The roads off the main road were gravel. In between times when the county road grader smoothed the ruts, the auto traffic would form tracks with a hump of gravel in the center and raised gravel humps on either side. The gravel in these humps was loose. A car could loose traction and slide when it hit these humps at the wrong angle. I have seen Jay Baby flying down the gravel roads with the back end of the big Harley swishing back and forth like a horse's tail. The bridges over the small creeks along these roads were wooden with no side rails. Two wooden tracks were laid across the cross members to accommodate the wheels of a car. It came as no surprise to anyone when we received the report that Jay Baby missed the bridge while trying to regain control of his big Harley and went airborne into the water. We were relieved to learn that his only serious injury was to his pride. A week or so after the accident we heard the big Harley's throaty rumble once more and watched the curve for Jay Baby to appear. However, when we saw the bike it had kids sitting on every available surface. Jay Baby sold the bike for fifty dollars to a family down the road with a bunch of teen and pre-teen boys. I never saw him on a motorcycle again.

The best car safety device is a rear-view mirror with a cop in it. - Dudley Moore