The Curve Ball
The Curve Ball
And, my curve bike…
The following spring after turning twelve a new neighbor moved in next door to my Uncle Louis’s house, where we lived, and his name was Harold… Harold Lau (just another one of them Harold’s in my life). He had a young wife and daughter and worked on the Detroit Police Force. He was a rookie cop, meaning he was still in his first year on the job, and they owned a 1951 Ford four door sedan. It was black and Harold washed it almost every day he was home from work, and treated it like it was his second child. My very first encounter with Harold was not a pleasant one.
I had acquired a habit of riding my bike to the top of our driveway and once alongside our backdoor I would step off of the bike, much like Roy Rogers used to occasionally do, when he stepped off his horse Trigger while pulling up outside a saloon. Depending on how fast I could get it going, before leaping off, determined how deep in the yard the bike would continue until it fell over into a heap. Sometimes I could get it going fast enough that it would travel all the way to the back fence. I had been doing this act way before Harold decided to become our neighbor.
It so happened that our driveways were side by side. This was unusual because our house was the first one built on the street and was done so by a private builder. Every other house on the block had driveways on their right side, which were built as part of a housing development during post war construction. Just think, if the developers had seen far enough ahead and put the driveways on the left side of their houses, I wouldn’t have had the problem I was about to have.
My bike was older and the grips were completely worn off at the ends of the handlebars, probably from the bike tumbling into a heap once or twice a day into our backyard. We had no fences back then, or garages, so the bike was free to go wherever it might. And one day it did.
Our parallel driveways did not extend into our backyards, so it would be unusual to expect that someone would park a car back there. One day, not so long after Harold finished washing and waxing his black shiny 1951 Ford Sedan, I came up the driveway and executed my Roy Rogers dismount sending my bike tumbling on its way into our backyard… or so I thought. The bike began its journey as usual heading for the back fence, but along the way it encountered an impediment that turned it ever so directly towards the “Harold Car” sitting in his yard, where a car wasn’t supposed to be. It was a painful sight to witness, like it was happening in slow motion, except it wasn’t. I couldn’t stop the carnage about to take place, as I watched my bike, with its bare uncovered handlebar ends, running headlong for the unsuspecting car. On hearing the scraping sound of the handlebars, along the Fords beautiful shiny, recently waxed black paint, I thought, Holy Crappo Batman, is Robin in trouble or what? There was no one around but me as witness, so I quietly and quickly picked up the evidence and rolled the bike to the other side of our house and went inside. What else was a boy to do? I know, knock on the policeman’s door and say, “Sorry, I just put a ruin on your car out there.”
It didn’t take long for the knock at the side door to come. How does one, as a twelve year old, know how to not look guilty of the terrible crime he has just committed? The answer is… “There is no way.”
Detroit Police Officer Harold Lau, our new neighbor, stood at our side door, in uniform. But, and here is the good part, he wasn’t in his police uniform. Harold played in a Police softball league and was dressed in his team uniform as if he was headed for a game. When I opened the door he asked if I wanted to go along with him to his ballgame, and if I do, I should ask my mother if it was OK.
Holy Carbuncle, now what do I do? Apparently Harold must have witnessed my incessant bouncing of a baseball against our metal covered coal-bin on the side of our porch. I had taken an old cover less baseball and wrapped it in black tape and would bounce it continuously against our porch, fielding it from all the way back in his driveway. I would do that for hours on end. It’s a wonder it didn’t drive my mother bananas and maybe it did, but she never said a word.
My mother approved my riding to Harold’s ballgame, but now, how do I deal with what I just did to his car just a few minutes ago? Feeling pretty sheepish… I began, “Mister Lau, I need to tell you about something,” Harold then interrupted saying… “I know Ronnie, I saw what happened, let’s go to the game and we’ll deal with it later.
I had such a great time watching Harold’s game… he was really a good player. It was my first introduction to fast-pitch softball and I was amazed at how fast a pitch could be thrown underhand, I’d thought only girls threw underhand. When we arrived home I thanked him for taking me and I was sorry about the car damage. He said, “Don’t worry, we will work it out, and by the way… do you know how to throw a curve ball?” Well, I didn’t know how to throw a curve ball but I was soon to learn.
Thankfully, at Harolds suggestion, I was able to deal with the car’s damage using some of my earnings from my paper route over the course of that summer. I also made a decision to can my Roy Rogers style dismount for the best interests of the rest of the neighborhood cars and as well my bike.
Harold and I played “balls and strikes” all summer long, he would be the catcher and I would pitch and then we would switch positions. He taught me how to throw a real mean curve ball, first how to grip the ball, then… while rotating your wrist and forearm you throw it at the batters head and as soon as the batter ducked away, the ball would curve over the plate for a strike. I got really good at it, I mean, really good at it and developed a pretty good arm that summer. I was pretty small still for my age and the next summer my curve ball would be called into service with interesting results. That, is another story altogether.
It seems all of the Harolds that have had an effect on my life have all been an acquaintance of short duration. First, my biological father Harold Kuhn, my cousin Harold Hart the aeronautical engineer, my mother’s cousin Harold Colbert, who took me for my first airplane ride. And finally, during the summer of 1952, Harold Lau, becoming my “Curve Ball Maestro.”
I lost track of my curve ball teacher after the summer of 1952. During that fall season, Harold Lau,the Detroit Police Officer, was involved in a near fatal police chase accident. The pictures on the front pages of the newspapers were horrific. How anyone survived is beyond me. It was a time before seat belts and with Harold sitting in the front seat, riding shotgun as we used to say, he went through the windshield. I saw him for the last time sitting on his front porch a few months after his car accident. He had a very large bump on the front of his head about the size of half a grapefruit. It wasn’t very pretty and Harold wasn’t at all talkative. I didn’t say much and neither did he and shortly thereafter, Harold and his family moved away and just quietly disappeared, seemingly overnight. I still wonder today where they may have gone and what the rest of his life was like. He was another of the really nice men I knew as a youngster. We should all be so lucky to have so many Harolds in our lives.