Timothy Caldwell was a professional singer and professor of music for almost forty years, with articles published by major professional journals. His book, Expressive Singing: Dalcroze Eurhythmics for Voice, was published by Prentice Hall in 1994. His creative writing has been published in Blue Lake Review and The Storyteller Magazine. He is a Vietnam veteran and author of "The Chaplain's Assistant: God, Country, and Vietnam," and is an advocate for better mental health treatment for veterans and their families. He is currently at work on his second novel and a collection of short stories.
The sound that came through our jalousie windows was new to me, and it was coming closer. I put my comic book down, opened the front door, and stepped into a hot summer sun. Gene Watson, my sixteen-year-old role model, was sitting on a silver motor scooter, riding down the middle of the asphalt road that ran in front of my house. He waved as he rode by.
He reached the end of the block then turned right onto the dirt road that connected with the other roads in the new subdivision. I ran through our carport onto the thick Bermuda grass and into our backyard. I looked between the houses that faced the street that ran parallel to ours and saw his silver scooter appear and disappear as he flew along the road.
I had a bike—Blackie—that was given to me on my eighth birthday, when I was just a little boy. We lived in Wheelwright, Kentucky, a mining town in the Appalachian foothills. After riding up and down those hills, the flatlands of Sarasota were easy. It was the mid-1950s, and Sarasota was a quiet town, so Mom let me ride Blackie everywhere.
Everything changed when I saw Gene floating down the street like a prince surveying his kingdom. In the blink of an eye, Blackie was transformed from my noble steed into a motorless contraption that I had to pedal, as I strained, sweated, and panted in the tropical heat. I needed a scooter, one like Gene's.
That night at dinner I mentioned Gene's scooter in a casual, offhanded way. Dad, sensing where I was going with the conversation, pointed out that scooters were expensive. Mom stated the obvious: Gene was sixteen and I was eleven. I pointed out that I was almost twelve: My birthday was only nine months away.
Dad said that Gene earned his own money, so he was able to buy the scooter and pay for the gasoline to run it. If I wanted to have a scooter, maybe I should get a job. I pointed out that I was only eleven years old. Who is going to give a job to an eleven-year-old?
Later that night, I remembered something I had seen a few days earlier. I was riding Blackie around the subdivision when I came across something I had never seen before: a Kool-Aid stand. A couple of little girls sat behind a card table beside their driveway. They had a sign that read: Cool Aid, 7¢. They didn't do anything—they just sat and waited for customers to come to them.
I circled past them a couple of times, pretending that I was not interested in the stand but was looking for a playmate's house. I would stop, look at the house number on a mailbox that sat on the edge of the lawn, and then ponder whether or not this was the house I was looking for. They never knew that I was, in fact, spying on their operation. I didn't know how much a scooter cost, but the way those girls were raking in money, I knew I would have one after just a few days if I could sell enough Kool-Aid.
The night of the big "no" from Dad, I told Mom about my plan: I could make all the money I needed with a Kool-Aid stand. She said it could take a long time to make enough money. I know, I told her. I was willing to spend days at the stand or at least a couple of afternoons.
"Okay," she said. "Let's give it a try."
The next day, she took me to the grocery store to buy supplies. Mom was always trying to get me to learn things, so she told me to read the directions on the back of the Kool-Aid package to figure out how much sugar she needed to buy. I made a ballpark estimate: five pounds. She went with the one-pound size instead.
By eleven o'clock the next morning, a card table was set up on the edge of our lawn. The sign taped to the table read: Cool Aid, 5¢. A chilled, fresh pitcher of Kool-Aid was sitting beside an upside-down stack of paper cups. My younger sister, Ruthie, was seated in one of the two chairs behind the table. I was pacing, waiting for the customers to show up.
Around twelve o'clock, the pitcher was half-full because Ruthie and I got thirsty. My friend, Robbie, walked over to say hi. Ruthie gave him a free cup. It was getting hot in the direct sun (there were no shade trees in our subdivision), and Mom called us in for lunch. Robbie joined us.
As we ate our fried baloney sandwiches, Robbie and I talked about what we might expect at school in September (we were both in the fifth grade). I was also wondering about how to get the word out about my Kool-Aid stand when Robbie came up with a great idea: put my business on wheels. No cars had passed us all morning, and it was pretty hot, so most kids would be staying indoors. Some of them even had air-conditioning, unlike our houses, so they wouldn't want to be outdoors in the heat. We should go to them.
Ruthie had a red wagon that was perfect. After some bargaining, she agreed to let me use it so long as she was riding in it. Within the hour, the sign that had been on the card table hung from the side of the wagon. Ruthie sat in it, holding the pitcher of Kool-Aid upright.
I was pulling her slowly, making sure the Kool-Aid was not sloshing out, and Robbie was several paces in front. He had his hands cupped around his mouth as he called out, "Kool-Aid. Cold, fresh Kool-Aid. Five cents."
We pulled, walked, and called on every street in the subdivision. On the way back home, Ruthie was walking (under protest), the pitcher was half-full (Robbie and I needed to keep our energy up), and I had made fifteen cents. We had just walked into our house when Ruthie ran into her room and reappeared with an IOU I had written when I borrowed ten cents from her. She demanded payment immediately.
The money had not been in my pocket long enough to start burning it but I paid her. I went to my room, turned my desk fan so it would blow directly on me, then lay down on my bed. I was tired and dejected; My dream of having my own scooter had lasted only one afternoon.
I must have dozed off, because the next thing I knew, Mom was knocking on my bedroom door. Robbie was with her.
"You wanna play a game?" he asked as he tossed a baseball into his first baseman's mitt. "Some of the guys are getting together at the Pony League field."
I looked at Mom and she nodded. I grabbed my glove, laced up my tennis shoes, and went to our carport where Blackie was leaning on his kickstand. Something about the way he was leaning seemed to say, "Hop on and let's go."
As we rode to the baseball field, I slipped Blackie into third gear—the highest—and felt the chain slip into the new position. A hot wind blew in my face as I stood on his pedals to make him go faster and faster. I was my own motor, and my legs were so strong, I could almost fly. I didn't need a scooter that ran on gasoline-I had me.
"Yahoo!" I yelled as Robbie and I flew down the road to the waiting game.