A Freezing Rain

This morning freezing rain is falling over Shreveport
endangering early blossoms eager for a jump on spring.
Such tender buds, upon coating with ice, wither and die.
Today is perfect for staying inside, for putting nothing

on the agenda but cuddling warm with the wife by a wood fire,
and for quiet conversation, laughing, and a bit of reminiscing.
I think far back to a time more than 5 dogs and two wives ago,
back to a time when nothing good in my life was missing.

The summer of 1954 I was a boy of nearly ten years,
and I owned a bicycle - a majestic Schwinn, painted red
with white stripes. I loved that bike, riding it with no fears.
Then I met Billy, the best bicycle rider who ever drew breath.

Now, Billy was already ten, and I would know him mere weeks,
but what an impression he made! The very first time I saw him,
Billy was riding his bike using no hands…but what really speaks
to his bicycle mastery was he was doing a headstand on the seat!

The grassy park in front of my home had succumbed to progress
in form of a shopping center, with a virtual sea of smooth concrete.
One end of the parking lot with little traffic we had deemed safe
for performing our bicycle trick competitions. Billy would meet

any challenger, blowing them all away. Many boys got mad
being shown up by Billy. Not I. He was friendly, easy to like.
We started hanging out together, practicing tricks, then riding
until hot and thirsty. We’d sit down on the curb beside our bikes

and drink carry-out cherry colas I would buy from the soda fountain
inside the drug store. We’d make jokes, laugh, and talk baseball.
Our friendship grew for a month or so until that one fateful day
my father came home early from work. This was our downfall.

At supper, my father asked, ”How long have you been associating
with that boy?” I happily replied. “For a few weeks. He’s teaching
me some tricks to do on my bike. He is really amazing.” “You
are never to play with him again. You know better. Supposing

the neighbors were to see you associating with that colored boy!”
The next day I bought us, Billy and me, a cherry cola one last time.
“My father won’t let me play with you any more.” I solemnly said.
“Mine recently told me the same thing. He warned it was a prime

way for me to get myself hurt - playing with the likes of you.”
Thus, we went our separate ways. I would see Billy around now
and then. At first we’d wave…then it was something we didn’t do.
Sometimes I think it a shame Billy and I couldn’t be friends somehow.

Our budding friendship withered under the cold wisdom of our elders -
segregated schools and play killed many potential friendships of that day.
I am happy in believing there are no longer restrictions on friendships today.
Oh, how I pray such restrictions are never placed on our children of today!

Harry Edward Gilleland      02.26.03