The new bike had cost her $75.00. It was only 3 days old. She had mowed a lot of lawns to earn that much money. 30 lawns to be precise.
Joanna was 10 years old and had just done 11 chin ups in the Willis middle school gymnasium in Delaware, Ohio. Delaware was her new home. she counted in her head and 10, and one to grow on, eleven, she thought. She was a Yankee now. Her side won the war. Life was good. Willis middle school was old, dark, dingy and a cold place though. She was taking the test for the President’s physical fitness award for sixth graders along with the rest of her class. All of them were older by at least a year. The entire country had to take the comprehensive test. It was 1967, and the first year after she had moved from Holly Springs, Mississippi were she had been born. It was the age of the cold war with the USSR and the hot war with Vietnam was raging.
The test lasted for 4 weeks. A classmate of hers named Rudolf had told her not to do more chin ups than him. Rudolf was easily 14 years old but held back due to learning difficulties. He was a man-child of sorts but not a real mean guy, but very athletic. He had a few girlfriends and one of them was carrying his baby. He looked a lot like a mini Joe Frasier (World Heavyweight Boxing Champion) to Joanna. Life in public school. You had to love it.
Joanna was joyful and unhappy both at the same time because she thought Rudolf might try to put the hurt on her (not injure her) for doing one more chin up than him. She was right. He walked up and punched her in the arm and sternly told her not to let it happen again. She was making him look bad he whispered. Before he hit her she lied to him and exclaimed fearfully that she heard he had done 12 chinups. He asked her privately if she could have done more then. She lied again and said no.
Joanna went home that day and finished her homework. Her arm still ached. She rummaged through her shelves in her bedroom and pulled out her older brother’s Charles Atlas manuals intending to get stronger over the next many months. Very strong. So many of these classmates were 2 and even 3 years older than her. She decided to be strong enough so that when these guys tried to bully her they would think twice, first. Her favorite exercises in the manual were the push ups (dips) between two breakfast chairs and the sit ups with feet under the couch while watching TV. She would eat everything she could but would never gain weight. She kept growing stronger, taller and skinnier by the week.
The ad in the newspaper(Delaware Gazette) she ran to get lawn mowing work was very successful. She had 17 lawns to mow each week during the spring, summer and fall. She shoveled snow in the winter. She was on the summer swim team and played all the sports in season. Joanna liked having her own spending money but all of this activity on top of her paper route and home chores kept her from gaining any weight. She rode her bicycle everywhere she went(no hands Charley they called her), including to school and the bank where she paid her loan each month for the brand new $140.00 lime green Lawn Boy lawn mower. She paid $10 dollars a month on the 18 month loan her Dad co-signed with her. It was paid in full early. She saved some interest expense.
One warm spring afternoon she had all her lawns mowed for the week and after watching a track event at the local college football stadium she came out to get her bike and go home. Oh Man, her brand spanking new 5 speed Schwinn bike had been stolen. It was less than a week old. Hell no, it was less than 3 days old. She walked home with steam coming out of her ears and asked her parents if the homeowners insurance would cover it. Her Dad said to go look for it first and that the insurance deductible was $100. The bike new had cost her $75.00. He told her they had not meet the deductible yet. When she finished her obligations that Saturday morning she borrowed her brothers red one speed bike (it used to be her bike) and went to search for her beautiful olive-green five speed bike. She had bought the bike with her own money.
She brought a friend of hers that lived next door with her to help search. His name was Bobby. He was a year younger but a scrappy little guy and an only child. His parents owned an office supply business downtown and his Mom was very young looking and beautiful. Not long into the search through a distant lower-income neighborhood an eighth grader named Duncan came riding up to them on her new bike. Joanna became enraged and said “Hey that is my bike, did you steal my bike yesterday?” Duncan denied it was hers. He quickly said a cousin had given it to him that morning. Joanna was revved up pretty high by now and said to him that it WAS her bike and to give it over right NOW! She was new to town and had no idea about Duncan’s reputation as a tough guy.
Duncan became silent for a second and then said Joanna would have to fight him for it. Joanna said I am one step ahead of you. Walking right over to him and began punching him even while he was still on the bike.
Bobby left the scene yelling back that he was going to get the police or fire department, somebody, anybody. Bobby knew about Duncan but did not take time to inform Joanna of Duncan’s reputation as a real bad Ass. Joanna kept on Duncan but yelled back and told him to get the ambulance or coroner for Duncan. Duncan and the bike toppled over. Joanna saw the bike fall and the new scratch on the front wheel fender appear. Duncan must have seen the anger in her face. He left the scene without the bike. Most thieves and bullies are cowards, she thought.
Joanna had at least 4 miles to ride. She was riding her brothers bike and trying to guide her new bike with her left hand when Rudolf came walking up to the cross walk from another direction. He lived in the neighborhood close by. She stopped him and asked him where he was heading. He proudly said he was going to track and field practice with the high school junior varsity. The high school was three blocks from her house. She asked Rudolf sarcastically if he knew how to ride a bike? He said “seriously”? with a grin.
He secretly respected Joanna because when he hit her that time in gym class she had not cried or reported him to the principal. She had not even rubbed it out. Joanna was feeling fearless due to some temper coursing through her body from her confrontation a few minutes earlier. She asked Rudolf to ride the old red bike to her house and walk from there to the High School. He was glad to do it. Just then Bobby rode up as Rudolph was getting onto the saddle and exclaimed in frustration to Joanna, “not again?” he moaned. Joanna explained everything to Bobby and quipped to Rudolf that he better not wreck it!
All three of them road to Joanna’s house with Rudolph privately thinking to himself along the way that even he would not want to fight Duncan.