Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bob the Bicycle Telegraph Delivery Guy

Not Bob's bike but one I think is similar to the one he rode up  Grand Ave hill on a  rainy day in 1937 or 38.

I met Robert Quinn because his daughter Mary broke her right leg.  Not my fault.  I received a call from St Anthony's Church asking me to deliver Holy Communion to Robert and his family since Mary could no longer drive due to her gimp leg.  No problem.  The Quinns live just a mile away from my home.  Minister of Eucharist to the Home-bound is something I started to do last autumn.  A way to do make good with the bike  instead of my usual japes and shenanigans.  Put the bike to good use, do the Lord's work.  Also an opportunity to meet the tiring heroes that are not long for this realm.

Robert, Bob, is in his 90s.  He lives at home with his lovely wife Lucille and their daughter Mary.  He is veteran of WWII, ETO, as a combat engineer and a participant in the Battle of Bulge.  He was one of many Americans in Bastogne surrounded by the enemy until this last German offensive was put to an end.  Needless to say he survived and got to into Germany later.

A few years earlier when he was in his teens he worked for a telegraph company in Des Moines as a bicycle delivery person.  Bicycle messenger.  My eyes lit up when he told me this.  Damn, I would love to do that!

I visit the Quinns every Sunday and they did take note that I ride a bicycle during my visits.  This is why he told me I think.  Bob sits in a chair covered in blankets and often wearing gloves despite how warm the house feels.  I usually sweat after arrival because I ride a bike albeit it has been winter for almost all of my visits.  He is soft spoken.  Sometimes I pull a chair closer so i can hear him.  Despite his age his hearing is good.  Having fired WWII combat rifles I am amazed than any veteran of that conflict can hear at all.

Payments as low as $1 per week!

One day.  "I had that job for one day."

"Really?  What happened?" I asked.

"It was raining.  It was my first day.  There were 6 of us waiting for a run.  But because of the rain they disappeared.  And the delivery was to a place in West Des Moines."

Understandable.  I hate rain.  Rather ride in snow.  28F and I am good snow or shine.  But rain, I hate it.

"What sort of bike did you ride for this delivery."

"Western Flyer."

"Single speed or did it have any gears?"

"Single speed."

"How did you get to West Des Moines?"

"Grand Avenue."

"Even that hill?" I queried wondering how different things were in 1937.  No trails, no bike lanes.  Obviously less roads and streets.  I really need to view some old maps.

"Straight up that hill.  Stayed in the seat the entire time.  When I got back I turned in my badge.  Never wanted to do that again."

That was it.  I could have drilled him for questions but he would be totally right in saying "You daft bastard I never lived and breathed bikes you you and your ilk!"  Get info slowly.

A few years later he went off to Europe and participated in the largest battle America ever entered and defeated an evil enemy.  He left in January, 1946.  It was a nice day when they shipped back but cold and snowing when he stepped foot back in the States, married a beautiful Italian American woman and started a family.  Typical St Anthony's parishioner  As much as SA hypes up its Italian roots there's a Celtic cross on top of the church.  Bob is Irish.

I don't now if he ever rode a bicycle again.  It seems to me that America view bicycles as kid toys rather than utility or recreational vehicles.  Look at how different countries developed different styles of bikes.  Utilitarian in England and Germany.  France had beautiful touring and sporting bikes.  Italy, racers.  America, Pee Wee Herman bikes and Sting Rays.  Sure cruisers are lovely but practical?

Bob did show me a bicycle that he purchased for his son many decades ago.  Beautiful Schwinn cruiser, red, fenders, white rims.  He said that a neighbor kid wanted it but he denied him.  "I saw him ride his bicycle right into a telephone pole.  I was not gonna let my son's bike go to an idiot."

I wonder if still thinks about that rainy day climbing Grand Ave hill completely soaked to the bones on a Western Flyer. Probably when he sees me showing up on a rainy Sunday.

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