The DoodlebugA Story by Samuel Dickens
A Charley and Buster chapter
July 1, 1961
Charley woke up with wheels and engines on his mind. Ever since Allen Black had let him ride his red Sears moped two years earlier, he’d had the bug.
Man, that was the coolest thing. Allen didn’t know how lucky he was to get a moped for Christmas. I’m really glad he let me ride it. If I had one, I’d ride it all the time!
Charley pictured himself whizzing around on a motorized, two-wheeled steed, its bright, colorful paint and chrome sparkling in the sun.
Heh-heh, all the girls would want me to give them rides! Oooo, bladder pain--I’d better get up and pee.
Charley rolled out of bed and went to the bathroom. Then, feeling hungry, he entered the kitchen and scratched around for something to eat.
Crap, this kitchen is a mess! There’s my half-eaten Honey Bun from yesterday. I guess it’s still good. Let’s look in the ice box and see if there’s any milk. Fiddle-sticks, there’s not any. I guess this gooey stale thing is my breakfast, then.
Charley picked up the Honey Bun and started to take a bite, but saw a tiny cockroach stuck in the icing, struggling to get free.
“Yuck!” he hollered, and threw it against the wall. “I hate cockroaches!”
Well, I think I’ve got nineteen cents, so I’ll ride my bike down to McCreary’s and buy a box of chocolate milk.
Fifteen minutes later, Charley sat on the curb outside McCreary’s general store, drinking his milk.
Travis walked by and said, “Hey, Charley, how you doin’?”
Charley looked up and told him, “Oh, I’m doin’ okay. Did you see that red BSA go through town yesterday?”
Travis sat down beside him and said, “Yeah, man, it was neat. I wish he’d stopped so I could’ve looked at it up close.”
“Yeah, me too. I guess he wasn’t from around here, and was just passin’ through.”
“Probably so. My parents don’t even want me to have a scooter or a moped, or anything! What about your dad; does he care if you get one?”
Charley took the last swig of chocolate milk, crushed the box, and replied, “Nah, he doesn’t much care what I do.”
Travis told him, “Man, you’re lucky.”
The word lucky didn’t seem applicable in Charley’s mind, but he agreed with Travis, anyway.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
Travis got up and told Charley, “I’ll see you later. I’ve got to go mow Mrs. Jones’s grass.”
“Alright, Travis, we’ll see you later.”
Well, shoot. What am I gonna do today? Buster is busy helpin’ his dad patch the roof on their old barn, and we got too much rain yesterday for the fishin’ to be any good. Guess I’ll ride up to the dump and see if anyone has thrown away a little engine or some wheels or somethin’.
Charley hopped on his red and white Western Flyer and began peddling toward the city dump. There was no shoulder on the narrow, two-lane blacktop road, so he had to constantly go into the grassy ditch when cars or trucks came by. It was four rough miles in the summer heat to the dump, but Charley was used to such tough conditions, and made it there in forty minutes.
Consisting of seven acres on the side of a big hill, the dump was where everyone took their trash, garbage, old appliances, and anything else they didn’t want. To some, like Charley, it was a place to find treasures. Previously, he’d found a perfectly good fishing reel, a radio that still worked, and countless bicycle parts. To get the good stuff, you needed to be on the scene when someone unloaded, ready to grab it up.
The hill is too steep and rough to ride up it, so I’ll have to push the bike along with me. Ain’t no way I’d leave it here at the bottom. Somebody might think it was junk, and take it.
About 50 yards up the hill, a man was unloading a pickup truck and small trailer, so Charley went to check it out. He was almost to the old, green Dodge when it started to roll. Charley threw his bicycle on the ground, ran uphill and pushed as hard as he could against the left front fender.
“Whoa-whoa-whoa!” yelled the man as he held to the back of the trailer. Neither he nor Charley could do more than slow its decent, and they plowed furrows in the dirt with their shoes as it dragged or pushed them along.
The truck came to a precarious stop against something, and Charley immediately knew what it was.
Charley got down on his knees and peered underneath the truck. There it was--a mangled red and white wad of something that used to be a bicycle.
My bike is ruined! It’s all gnarled-up like a wad of snakes!
Someone knelt down beside Charley, looked underneath the truck and said, “Aw, s**t, is that your bike under there?”
Charley sighed and told him, “Yeah, it sure is.”
“I’m really sorry; I guess I didn’t have the brake set tight enough. At least no one got hurt.”
“Well, my bike sacrificed itself for your ol’ truck, so I guess it died honorably.”
“Uh, that’s one way of lookin’ at it. This truck is how I’ve been earnin’ my livin’, so I’m mighty grateful.”
Charley and the man both stood up. Holding out his right hand, the man said, “I’m Willard Tanner. What’s your name?”
Charley shook his hand and replied, “I’m Charley Satterfield.”
“Glad to meet you, Charley. Listen, I’ve got a lot of old bicycle parts out at the house, so I’ll bet we could throw one together for you.”
“Sure, you bet. Are you gettin’ hungry for lunch?”
With a gleam in his eye, Charley said, “Yes, I’m kinda hungry.”
Willard told him, “Well, if you don’t think your parents will mind, ride out to the house and have lunch with me. I think my wife is makin’ fried catfish.”
“I live alone with my dad, and he never cares what I do.”
Willard smiled and said, “Alright, then.”
The thought of having a good, hot meal took the edge off of Charley’s pain somewhat, so after pulling his bike’s twisted remains out from under the truck and tossing it in the back, he hopped in with Willard and they headed out highway ten.
“Do you live in town, Charley?”
“Yeah, I live on West Cook Street, by the Laundromat.”
“I know about where that’s at. So, are your parents divorced?”
“Couldn’t get along?”
“Nope. They fought like cats and dogs.”
Willard sighed and said, “Well, I sure know about that.”
“Did your parents fight all the time, too?”
“They certainly did, and it was hard on me. Parents ought to consider their kids more. My wife and I have a three-year-old girl that I think the world of, and I swear she’s gonna grow up in a peaceful home.”
Charley said, “My dad is okay, I mean, he’s not mean or anything.”
“He gets the blues, though, and has to go to the beer joint a lot.”
Willard glanced at Charley and said, “I hope he doesn’t drink too much.”
“He drinks a little, but mostly, he goes to the beer joints lookin’ for women. If he can find a new wife, I think his blues will go away.”
“Those blues are a bad thing to have,” said Willard, shaking his head. Turning off the highway onto a dirt drive, he pulled up in front of a small, white house and shut off the engine. “Well, this is it--home sweet home. Come on in.”
As soon as they closed the screen door behind them, a little red-headed girl ran to Willard, crying “Daddy, daddy, daddy!” He picked her up, gave her a long hug and a kiss, and said, “Charley, this is my little Lula belle. We usually just call her Lulu.”
“Hi, Lulu,” said Charley, placing his pinky finger in her chubby little hand.
“Can you shake Charley’s finger, sweet heart?”
Lulu stared at Charley and didn’t move a muscle.
“She’s just shy,” explained Willard. “Come on into the kitchen, and let’s eat.”
Charley followed Willard into the tiny kitchen/dining room, where a very busy woman tended a four-burner stove with apparent skill.
“Honey, I hope you cooked enough, because I brought someone home to eat with us.”
Although in the heat of culinary battle, she turned around, smiled, and waved a potholder at Charley, saying, “Hi, I’m Betty! Y’all sit down, and I’m gonna start servin’ you!”
Willard motioned toward the small, square table, and said, “Sit anywhere you like.”
Within moments, Betty had served Charley a big plate of crispy fried catfish, macaroni and cheese, homemade pickle relish, coleslaw, and hushpuppies.
“Eat up,” she said.
Charley didn’t need any encouragement, and began to stuff himself.
It must be 120 degrees in here, but I love it. Betty is a fabulous cook, and not bad-lookin’……
Charley suddenly got a good look at Betty, and saw that one side of her face and neck was horribly scarred.
God, I didn’t notice that a while ago! It makes her look hideous. I wonder what happened.
After lunch, Willard took Charley out to the barn, where he had all of his good junk stored.
Charley eyed several partial bikes and said, “Wow, you weren’t kiddin’ about havin’ some bicycle parts, Willard!”
“Just look through it and take whatever you want. I got it all free at the dump, anyhow.”
Charley spied a burgundy-colored Schwinn with its fenders missing, and said, “Wow, an English racer!”
Willard told him, “You’ve got a good eye. I think that one just needs its rusted chain oiled-up, and maybe some new inner tubes.”
“Yeah, and the fenders won’t matter--I can ride it without those.”
Charley pulled the Schwinn out for a closer look, and that’s when he saw, hiding behind it, a small scooter.
“Willard, what’s this?”
“Oh, that’s a Doodlebug scooter. Western Auto used to sell them. I guess someone left it out in the rain with the sparkplug removed, because the engine is froze-up.”
Charley tried not to let on how much it excited him. Pulling at his earlobe, he mumbled to no one in particular, “It’s got a horizontal crankshaft, so an engine from a chainsaw or garden tiller would work.”
“Are you interested in that?” asked Willard.
Charley’s eyes got big. “Yeah! I think I could put an engine on it from somethin’ else!”
“Well, it’s yours. Just take it. I’ll even help you fix it up.”
“God, would you?”
“Sure thing, Charley. It’s the least I can do.”
Charley envisioned a gleaming, chainsaw-powered Doodlebug with him aboard, flying down the road.
“I’ll try and find another engine that’ll work on it.”
Willard asked, “Won’t you need a few dollars for that?”
“Yeah, but I’ll sell pop bottles, or whatever.”
“You want to haul some hay with me? I’ll pay you two cents a bale.”
“I’ve never hauled any, but I’ll sure do my best!”
“Alright, then. I’m supposed to haul some for Tom Woodall tomorrow.”
Willard took Charley and the Doodle-bug home, and told him to be ready by eight the next morning. Charley wasted no time fiddling with the scooter, cleaning it up, putting air in the tires, etc. Just in case the cylinder might come free, he dumped oil down the sparkplug hole.
Maybe by tomorrow, the piston will come unstuck. It’s worth a try, at least.
Throughout the rest of the day, and in bed that night, Charley’s scooter thoughts would occasionally be interrupted by others.
I’ve heard hay-haulin’ is awful hard work. I hope I’m stout enough to do it. Willard sure is a nice guy. His little girl is cute. I thought his wife was nice lookin’, until I saw those horrible scars. I wonder what made Willard marry her.
At eight AM sharp, Willard picked Charley up, and they headed for the hayfield.
“Well, Charley, are you ready to haul some hay?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.”
“Good. It’s gonna be rough, you know.”
“Yeah, that’s what I figured. I brought my White Mule gloves.”
“Those are about the best, I reckon. You know, we really needed one more person to work with us, so it’s gonna be slow and extra hard. I’ll just have to double as a driver and a loader.”
When they got to the field, Charley saw exactly what Willard meant. They’d gather two bales from behind and two from in front, Willard would get in the truck, drive past two sets of bales, then stop and help Charley load. Like all beginning hay-haulers, Charley was exhausted and staggering about in no time.
Willard told him, “Alright--you’re tryin’ to muscle the bales up on the truck, and there’s an easier way. Watch how I do it.”
Willard got hold of each twine, snatched the bale upwards, bumped it with his knee, and then pushed forward with his arms.
“Did you see that? You gotta do it in one quick motion. Snatch, bump, heave, and it’s on the truck. Now, you see if you can do it.”
Charley said, “Okay”, and then gave it a try. It wasn’t pretty, but he more or less succeeded. “Hey, that’s cool! It didn’t take near as much energy to do it like that!”
By noon, Charley’s clothes were sweat-soaked, his forearms were covered in scratches, and he was well into the hay-hauling groove. Having just stowed their fifth load in the barn, Willard parked beside a large pecan tree at the edge of the field and shut the engine off.
Willard asked Charley, “You ready to take a chow-break?”
“Oh, man, am I ever.”
“Alright, then let’s get out of this hot truck for a while.”
Making themselves comfortable beneath the pecan tree, they unpacked their lunches. Willard had brought two bologna sandwiches and an apple, but all that Charley pulled from his crumpled brown paper sack was a banana.
Willard asked him, “Is that all you brought?”
“Here,” said Willard, and he handed Charley a bologna sandwich.
“Thanks, Willard. I was gonna bring some baloney sandwiches, too, but I guess dad ate it all up last night.”
“That’s okay. Betty always packs more than I need.”
Charley tore into the sandwich, and with his mouth over-stuffed, he told Willard, “Betty seems like a really good wife.”
“Oh, she is, she is. I’m damned lucky to have her.”
“Yeah, she sure cooks good.”
Willard grinned and said, “That ain’t all she’s good at.”
The thing Willard obviously meant was somehow unacceptable in Charley’s mind, and he replied, “Uh, yeah, I saw how clean your house was.”
“Aw, c’mon, Charley, that’s not what I meant.”
Charley blushed and looked around stupidly.
Willard swallowed the last bite of his sandwich, gave Charley a squinty-eyed look, and said, “Do you think a woman with scars on her face can’t be sexy?”
“Oh, no, I mean….uh, yeah, I guess one could be.”
“Well, you see, Charley, I’ve known Betty since we were kids. I’d always wanted to have her for my own, and when that kerosene lantern blew up in her face, it didn’t change how I felt. The burns, if anything, made it easier for me to make time with her.”
“How did it do that?”
All those guys who’d been chasin’ after her quit. They didn’t want a blemished rose, I guess, so that’s when yours truly made his move.”
“Ohhhhhh,” said Charley, “I see what you mean.”
Willard laughed, “So that’s how ol’ buck-toothed, big-nosed me got the beauty queen!”
Charley snickered at Willard, having seen it from his point of view.
“So, how ‘bout you, Charley; do you have a girlfriend?”
“There’s this really good-lookin’ girl that I write to sometimes.”
“Oh, well that’s good. Where does she live?”
“Illinois. I met her at the carnival last summer. She was just here vistin’ her aunt.”
“Is she comin’ back this summer?”
“I don’t know.”
Do you hear from her much?”
Charley looked down, twiddled with his shoestring, and replied, “No.”
Willard polished his apple on his shirt, took a bite, and said, “You know what?”
“What?” replied Charley.
“I think you need to find you a girl here. One that you can see and touch. Keep writin’ that gal up in Illinois if you want, but get you a girlfriend here. Right now, you’ve got all your eggs in one basket, and that ain’t no good.”
“I know, Willard, but findin’ a girlfriend is hard. They always seem to go for the guys who are rude and…and stupid.”
“Well, women are funny….”
“Yeah, and they’re not funny ha-ha, but funny weird!”
Willard raised one eyebrow and nodded in agreement. “Yep, they can be a real puzzle.”
“A puzzle with some of the pieces missin’! I’m always real nice to girls, and never make stupid jokes about their butts or breasts or anything….”
“That’s how you should be, Charley.”
“I--I am, I’m a gentleman, and it just chaps my behind to see nice girls gigglin’ and carryin’ on when some football player acts like a baby and says he wants ‘em to breast-feed him.”
Willard sighed. “Sometimes, it just don’t seem fair.”
“Not fair at all!” replied Charley.
“I know what you mean. It is pretty messed-up, the way so many girls ignore the nice guys. I think you got it right, though. Just keep bein’ yourself, and one of these days, you’ll land a good one, just like I did.”
Charley grinned and told him, “I hope you’re right.”
“I am. Try to be patient--you’ll see.”
Rested and fed, Willard and Charley resumed their back-breaking work. By 3:00 that afternoon, the job was done.
“Okay, we hauled nine loads of hay today; thirty bales per load, so that’s 270 bales. And at two cents per bale, I owe you five-dollars and forty cents.”
“Woo-hoo!” shouted Charley, “I could never have made this kind of money sellin’ pop bottles!”
Willard handed him the cash and said, “I’m takin’ a load of hogs to Dardanelle tomorrow, but when I find some more hay to haul, do you want to help?”
“Yes sir! Any time you need me, I’ll be ready!”
When Willard dropped Charley off at his house, he hopped from the truck and walked away with very little spring in his step. When he got to the porch, he plopped himself down and waved at the departing Willard.
Willard, why are you grinnin’ back at me like that? I’m just a little stiff, that’s all. In a few minutes, I’ll be fine.
Ten minutes later, Charley decided to get up and go work on the scooter.
“Ouch, my back! Guess I’ll wait till tomorrow.”
In bed that night, Charley ached all over and was unable to find a single position that didn’t cause pain in one way or another.
My hands hurt so bad, I can’t even scratch my nuts! Hay-haulin’ is the hardest darn work there is! How does Willard do it? He must be at least twenty-nine, after all.
Charley’s thoughts, as always, eventually found their way to girls.
What miraculous brains we guys have. If a girl used to be pretty, but gets her face burned-up, we can just ignore it. That’s what Willard did, and I’ve never met a guy who was happier with his wife. He loves her, just like she was perfect. If Carlotta comes down again and she has a lot of pimples, I’ll try not to see them. I sure hope one doesn’t pop in my mouth when I’m kissin’ her, though.
Shortly after sunrise the next morning, a sound woke Charley up.
Charley cracked one eye and peered out his bedroom window.
Buster hollered, “Holy smokes, Charley, where’d you get this?” and yanked on the scooter’s starter-rope again.
“Yeowee, Charley, it tried to run!”
Charley hobbled outside with only one leg of his pants on.
“Hang on, Buster, let me put some gas in it!”
Moving like a crippled mummy, Charley grabbed the gas can and poured some into the Doodle-bug’s tank.
Charley said, “This is how you do it, Buster!” and gave the rope a hard yank.
Buster cried, “Again, Charley! Pull it again!”
Charley jumped on the scooter, Buster leaped on behind, and they popped and sputtered out onto the road.
Buster jittered with excitement and screamed, “Open her up, Charley! Let’s see how fast she’ll go!”
Charley twisted the throttle until it would go no further. The engine raced, their hair flew back and wondrous, white-knuckled terror made their grinning mouths stretch from one ear to the other.
“What’s that sound, Charley?”
The engine seized, locking up the rear wheel and throwing them into a slide that couldn’t be recovered from.
“Owww-s**t!” cried Buster, as he crawled out from under the Doodle-bug.
Charley lay in the weeds about ten feet away, staring up at the blue summer sky. “I should’ve checked the oil.”
“Is that you I hear, Charley?”
“It ain’t Santa Claus. Go get my wagon.”
“We gonna haul the scooter on it?”
“Yeah, after you haul me.”
A while later, the scooter sat in the yard with smoke still rising from the big hole in its block and Charley sat on the porch, being doctored by Buster.
“Ouch! That s**t burns!”
“Oh, ya sissy, I gotta disinfect this danged scrape on your elbow.”
Charley whined, “Didn’t Mr. Blagg have some kind of ointment you could’ve borrowed?”
Buster dobbed away at Charley’s elbow with an old sock and told him, “Naaah, this kerosene works just as good!”
Kerosene--that’s some terrible stuff.
“I’ve got some money--you wanna go have a big lunch at Minnie’s café?”
“Woo-hoo, you know I do!”
© 2013 Samuel Dickens
Shelved in 2 LibrariesAdded on March 31, 2012
Last Updated on May 13, 2013
Lick Skillet, AR
AboutGreetings, all. I'm a sixty-five year-old father of three sons, amateur writer, artist, musician and sometimes cook. Also a motorcycle buff, I've been riding/working on them since my teens. Retired fr.. more..
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