I had no defense. There had been warnings before — no bicycles on the sidewalk!
I prided myself on my bike riding skills. Keeping perfect balance when not holding onto the handlebars while pedaling. Having just moved from the country into town at the age of 12, a newly found freedom was to hop on my bicycle and take off. Paved roads and sidewalks beckoned me.
Being a small town, it was very safe in 1942. You not only knew everyone in town and the countryside, you knew where they lived and who their cousins were.
On entering our small eastern Washington town of Tonasket in the early 1940s, you were greeted by a sign: Welcome to Tonasket, Population 640. That sign did not change much over the years. Main street was about four blocks long where most of the businesses were located with empty lots in between. There were a few side streets and one secondary street where the grain and feed store was located along with several apple warehouses, the mainstay industry of our town. There were no sidewalks on these streets.
Along main street was the post office, the barber shop with the red and white barber pole, a bench outside where the locals stopped to sit and chat, and Rudy the shoe cobbler, next to the bakery.
Holding down the corner was the prettiest building in town, The First National Bank building. It was white with large picture windows, surrounded by a manicured lawn where all political gatherings were held. Holding down the other corner was the movie theater, the center of attraction on Friday and Saturday nights.
In the next block was Lee Frank's Grocery, the Rexall Drug store, Shultz’s Dry Goods, Lane's Tavern and the Round Up Café. The doctor and dentist office was on the corner. In the last block was the newly built St. Martin’s hospital that took up the entire block. That was where the sidewalk ended.
We had only one sheriff in town, an older man, Bill Blakely. I thought of him as an old-timer whose main job was keeping kids and their bicycles off the sidewalk. He was of a portly stature bordering on paunchy. He didn’t move very fast; he didn’t have to, Tonasket was not a high-crime area. His patrol car was usually parked in front of Lane’s Tavern. Mr. Blakely could usually be found in the area chatting with the locals or next door at the Round Up Café with his large frame hanging off the bar stool at the counter.
I lived on a gravel road a block and half from St. Martin's Hospital. It wasn’t much fun to ride bikes on gravel, so I usually headed for the paved road or sidewalk depending on the time of day. It was a lazy summer morning when I decided to take a quick early morning spin around town on my bicycle. My 7-year-old nephew, Gene, who lived with us, wanted to go along. We only had one bike, so I motioned for him to jump on the handlebars and away we went. Full of high energy, we were enjoying a shared happiness, feeling a sense of freedom, as our small town was waking up.
When we neared St. Martin's Hospital I headed for the sidewalk. Gene reminded me excitedly, “We’re not supposed to ride on the sidewalk.” “Don’t worry,” I responded, “It’s early; no one’s around.”
We had just passed Lane’s Tavern when Gene yelled, “There’s Blakely!” At the same he yelled, he jumped off the handlebars while the bike was moving, causing me to lose control of the bike. All I could see was the sheriff’s large backside as a target right in front of me, a perfect target for an out of control bicycle. While my feet were frantically searching for the brake pedals I ran right into him. My shaky legs were trying to hold me up while my white knuckled hands were gripping the handlebars. With my inability to speak I suddenly had an urgent need to run. I was frantically looking for an exit in the situation.
Blakely hadn’t seen us coming as he was facing away from us. He wheeled around, stumbled back a step, as his face was reddening. The shiny sheriff’s badge loomed large in my eyes. With a sweeping hand gesture he yelled, “Get off the sidewalk!” In his extremely agitated state he saw no humor in the situation.
Averting the sheriff’s eyes, partly guilty, partly embarrassed, I quickly guided my bicycle off the sidewalk. Meanwhile, Gene had abandoned me to face the consequences of my bad decision alone, and was halfway home on foot. I knew it would only be a matter of minutes before my parents were advised that their 12-year-old daughter had a run in with the law — literally.
I had finally learned bicycles and pedestrians do not mix well on the sidewalks even in the early morning hours. There was no further punishment from my parents. They thought that my humiliation was punishment enough.