Orangie arranged Teddy, Kitty Kazoo, the Pandas, Webster Webfoot, Sammy the Squirrel and all the other stuffed animals that he and Butch possessed between them — twenty-three in all — in the red wagon that was tied to Butch’s tricycle for a monumental trip the boys had planned.
Orangie had felt compelled to do a final safety check to make sure none of the family of creatures would fall out on the long journey around the block, whose sidewalks included some significant hazards.
There were serious bumps caused by the old sycamore trees’ roots having pushed the concrete up in several places, he knew, from having ridden his tricycle over the entire route once a few weeks ago on a solo adventure.
There was never any question whose tricycle would have the animals’ wagon hooked up to it: Butch’s was a fine machine with big fat rubber tires, while Orangie’s had a pathetically bent-up front rim with no rubber left on it whatsoever. It had been his dad’s, and purchased for him at an antique sale at that, circa 1929.
So the boys declared themselves ready to go, and off they went.
“Here comes a pretty bad bump!” shouted Orangie back to Butch as the boys trekked past the Johnson’s. Mr. Johnson was almost as old as the big sycamore tree in front of his house, probably at least a hundred, Orangie imagined.
And even though the property was only three doors down from their point of departure at Butch’s, the boys knew that any animal going overboard there would be in grave danger, because Mr. Johnson was likely to let his big German Shepherd loose, and the dog was rumored to rip things apart: squirrels and cats, and stray basketballs and other sporting goods, so why not a stuffed animal?
To prevent any such horrible occurrence, Orangie’s job was to scout ahead, and then wheel around behind the wagon to make sure no passengers were lost. Well, this was quite a chore on a tricycle with such poor wheels , even for a wiry young boy like Orangie. So after half a dozen such sidewalk hazards, he began to feel pretty pooped.
As the boys approached the half-way point of their long journey, it was decided that they had to somehow get a drink of water. A hose bib in the side yard of the Melikian’s little white house lay just ahead and beckoned to the thirsty boys. So they took a short break to enjoy the cold water straight out of the faucet, soothing their dry mouths and throats on that hot summer day.
“C’mon, Orangie. We better get goin’ if we’re ever gonna make it all the way around the block!” urged Butch as Orangie was taking an extra long drink from the faucet.
“Sure thing, Butch. Let’s go!”
So onto their tricycles once again, the boys resumed the long trek through the heat of the day. The long drink from the Melikian’s faucet seemed to be just enough to propel Butch and Orangie through the back stretch along Hogue Street and all the way down the final long straightaway of Palm Street, which, having no sidewalk, forced them out onto the hot asphalt of the street until they finally reached the great oasis of Butch’s shaded side yard.
The boys were exhausted and began to collect their respective animals from the wagon as they discussed how they might cool off to enjoy what was left of the day.
“Maybe we could set up the slip’n’slide!” Orangie suggested.
“How about just run through the sprinkler? It’s already set up, and all we have to do is turn it on and wait about twenty seconds for the water to get cold!” countered Butch.
“Okay!” agreed Orangie gleefully. Then suddenly Orangie froze. But not in the way he would have liked. Not from jumping into an ice-cold creek, or even like he did when his dad had bought him a brand new shiny red tricycle in one of his dreams – but Orangie froze at the terrible realization that one of the animals was missing!
“Teddy’s not here!”
The boys knew immediately what they had to do. No matter the heat, no matter the distance, they would have to backtrack until they found Teddy. For Teddy was a very old bear, older than Orangie, even older than his antique tricycle, and he would surely be distressed and vulnerable wherever he may have landed.
So the boys hurriedly off-loaded the animals from the wagon, put them safely inside Butch’s back door, and started their hopeful backtracking mission to recover poor Teddy.
“We gotta find him!” cried Orangie as they frantically headed back up Palm Street. “What if some mean kid picks him up and decides to use him for target practice with his BB gun? Or some wild dog grabs him and runs down the alley chewing Teddy to pieces???”
These and other terrifying thoughts pushed the boys onward. With no sign of Teddy along the first leg of their journey, they made the turn at the end of the block onto Date Street’s blistering sidewalk.
Orangie could feel his heart pounding in his chest and he imagined that Teddy had been scooped up by old Mrs. Hampton as she was returning from a trip to the bank or the library and then decided to try out her new garbage disposal to see how well it would work on stuffed animals. She had been bragging to Orangie’s dad the other day about how sharp the blades were and she reckoned it would “chew up purt-near anything you could fit down the drain.”
The thing that made all of this so horrible, besides the danger of losing one of his favorite animals, was the fact that Orangie knew it was his fault. It had been his job to watch the wagon for the animals’ safety, and he had been so hot and tired that he had taken his attention off of it.
This distressing thought made his mouth even dryer, but this was certainly no time to be concerned with something so relatively trivial as dying of thirst. So onward the boys pressed, scanning the sidewalk, parking strip, gutters and lawns as they went.
“There he is!!” shouted Butch suddenly. He had spotted Teddy just beyond one of the big sycamore trees in the parking strip directly in front of Melikian’s house.
“He must’ve fallen out when we came around the corner right after getting a drink!” Orangie surmised by Teddy’s position next to the tree.
So, after scooping up the poor old bear, the boys made the trip back towards Palm Street and the refuge of Butch’s house, relieved and heartened by the success of their emergency run, yet too exhausted by now to participate in water sports or any other activity – besides sitting in front of the sweet cool air of a swamp cooler with an ice cold soda pop.
Which is exactly what they did.
David Novell was born and raised in and around Fresno, and has lived in North Fork since 1978. David is a local building contractor and has been part of the musical group “Sugar Pine,” entertaining around the area and at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad for over 35 years.
“Like any kid growing up in the little San Joaquin Valley towns of Centerville, Sanger, Reedley, Selma, Kingsburg, Exeter, Dinuba, and all the rest, I was privileged to have many innocent ‘adventures.’ Overgrown back yards, vacant lots, and deserted storage sheds were magical places where anything was possible.
“To follow, in this and subsequent issues of Sierra News Online, are some stories loosely based on my experiences as a young boy. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them.” ~ David Novell