Clouds sailed majestically across the sky like big white sea-going ships. Each cast large moving shadows on the roads and farmland below. I stood with my bike in the farmyard driveway watching the clouds and shadows, marveling at how slow the clouds seemed to move, while their shadows traveled more swiftly on earth.
Daddy’s first crop of hay was in the barn already and his corn was about ankle high. Summer vacation had started long enough ago that I’d forgotten school routine, but recently enough that I felt as if my free time still stretched long and deliciously ahead.
Hopping onto my bike, I peddled uphill towards my cousin’s farm. I found the three girls closest to my age under the shade trees in their front yard. Getting off my bike, I stretched out on the cool grass and asked, “Would you like to go for a bike ride with me?”
Barb considered the idea before suggesting, “It’s hot today. We shouldn’t go far and get overheated.”
Nodding her head, Alice insisted, “And I don’t want to take the road where we go down the steep hill. Peddling back up is murder!”
Getting onto her bike, Donna informed us, “I don’t want to take the road toward the highway, because it’s bumpy.”
Pulling my bike upright, I suggested, “Why don’t we bike to the corner and turn left? The road isn’t hilly or too bumpy and we can turn back at the first farm.”
By the time my cousins and I had reached the corner, five girls on bikes crested the crossroad hill. They skidded to a dusty stop beside us in the loose intersection gravel. I knew who they were; neighbors who lived slightly more distant. Two of the girls were close to my age, but three were at least four years older.
One of the older girls invited, “Do you want to come with us to visit one of our classmates? She lives on the other side of the hill north of Kathy’s place.”
Biting my lip, I worried, “The people who live on top of the hill have mean dogs. They chase cars, barking and snarling. I’m scared of them.”
The older girl scoffed confidently, “I know how to deal with dogs like that. We’ll be fine.” Despite my fear, I decided to trust in their protection, because I wanted to go.
Several minutes later our swarm of bikes topped the hill. The horrid dog living on that farm barked, then skulked through the yard watching us pass. I wondered if the beast was intimidated by all our bikes.
After a lovely coast downhill, we turned into another farmyard driveway. We found the older girls’ classmate in the shady backyard, practicing her guitar. Before long she began to play “Wooden Heart”, a song played frequently on the local radio station. We sang along. “Can’t you see, I love you? Please don’t break my heart in two. That’s not hard to do, cause I don’t have a wooden heart. And if you say goodbye, then I know I’d cry…maybe I’d die.”
Later there were fresh chocolate chip cookies in the house for everyone and the afternoon passed quickly. When we slowly made our way back uphill, I worried about the crazy dog, but again it seemed afraid to come out on the road after us.
The next morning was Saturday. My family went shopping in Marshfield, a rare treat. The following day we attended Mass, then spent a quiet day at home.
When Monday rolled around, I peddled my bike to visit the neighborhood cousins again. Walking into their home my first words were, “I had so much fun Friday, I hope we can go visiting like that more often this summer.”
Looking startled, Donna blurted, “You didn’t hear what happened?”
Tearfully Alice exclaimed, “It’s awful!”
One of the bigger girls we visited with on Friday had gone swimming with friends on Saturday and drowned. Barb explained what happened, “The further you go out in the swim area at the park, the deeper it gets until there’s a sudden drop. She must have gone under. By the time someone noticed, it was too late.”
Having trouble comprehending what I’d been told, I dropped down onto a chair. A refrain from the song “Wooden Heart” ran through my mind. “Treat me nice, treat me good. Treat me like you really should, cause I’m not made of wood and I don’t have a wooden heart.”