Larry lived up on the ridge, about 2 miles from my home, when we were kids. He was a year older and one grade above me in the little, one-room schoolhouse we attended together, but we quickly became the best of friends.
Early on, in our friendship, we would take turns spending the night at each other’s homes pretty often, but after he got his first bicycle, he would make the 2-mile ride almost daily during the summer and every weekend throughout the year. Larry had a black Schwinn that he had assembled from an assortment of parts from the scrapyard. Mine was an old, blue RollFast that a neighbor had refurbished for me. Larry made fun of my bike every day, because it was a girl’s bike, but we still ended up riding hundreds of miles together over the years.
The 2 miles of dirt road between our homes was all downhill for Larry and he had no fear of letting his bike go all-out down the steep hill, never even thinking of using the brake. How he kept from crashing and burning still mystifies me, as I was never that brave. The only concrete surface around was the low-water bridge across ‘Possum Walk Creek, and Larry would spend hours sliding his back tire, in order to leave black marks all over the bridge. He went through a lot of tires and the bridge was covered with black marks for years.
As we became early teens, we each managed to acquire motorcycles. Mine was a 50cc monstrosity from Montgomery Ward. Larry’s was a 49cc behemoth from Sears, Roebuck & Co., that was actually a moped, which allowed me to get back at him, for making fun of my girl’s bike. By this time, the state had paved our little, dirt road and Larry still loved to lay back marks. He discovered that he could find an oily part of the highway, lift his butt off the seat, hold on to the handlebars, rev the engine as high as it would go, and pop the clutch. The “motorcycle” would lay the prettiest black marks one had ever seen. The highway by our homes was covered with “peel-out” marks for the next few years.
When he turned 16, Larry, somehow, managed to put together an old car with a flat-head eight engine. From that point forward, I never witnessed my buddy start the car in motion without “laying rubber.” The 10 miles from his house to town was riddled with black marks from burnouts or sliding stops (back then, there was no such thing as ABS brakes). Anytime my dad saw black marks on any highway, I can still remember him saying, “Looks like Larry has been here.”
Life happened, Larry graduated high school, got a job, got married and had kids, while I went away to college and we lost touch. The last time I saw him was probably 45 years ago and I just learned last week of his passing. I would have liked to have gone to his funeral and pay respects to my old friend, but the pandemic lockdown has prevented any type of normal funeral.
Times, however, haven’t kept me from reminiscing about all of our adventures, together, as childhood friends, and concluding with one certainty: If the streets of heaven truly are paved with gold, I’d bet a dollar to a donut that they now have black marks all over them.
Jerry Crownover farms in Lawrence County. He is a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University, and is an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’