“My Very Own PF Flyers”
Del Rio, Texas
Man! Fifth grade at North Heights has just Flown by! It's been SUCH a good year. I have loved almost everything about it. I mean, except for that brown pajamas episode--which I escaped--and the fact that Tanya knocked me out of narrating the school play 'cause "she reads with feeling," (Sheesh!) I can't complain about Anything.
There's just one thing I need, though-----my own pair of black PF Flyers with three white stripes on each side! I've been beggin' for 'em all year long, but Mom and Daddy seem to think that my black leather lace-up shoes are all I need. I polish 'em for church almost every Saturday night, and then on Monday I'm back on this rocky playground again--still not able to run as fast as I need to.
I mean, haven't you heard about our Field Day? It's a Really big deal around here.
In the five years I've been walkin' and ridin' to and from this wonderful school, this is the first Field Day we've ever had.
Everybody's all talkin' about it every single day.
And I NEED my own PF Flyers, dang it! I know I'm fast barefoot, but we don't dare run barefoot on this playground. The little petrified snails and tiny rocks would cut our feet to smithereens!
Well, anyway, a few weeks ago Coach Earl Bowers came down from Del Rio Junior High, and he used a real stop watch to time us on the sorta grassy area over near Main Street.
I qualified for the 50- and 75-yard dashes, but now I keep losin' to Bruce Massey when we run practice races before classes start each day.
See, we've got our own track lanes marked off with white powder over on the Avenue D side of the school, and Mr. Mooney (our principal) gave us these two little pine boards that are hinged together on one end. If you slam 'em together, they make a loud noise that tells us to start runnin'. So, I guess we've got the best equipment possible now.
It's just three days to Field Day, and I've gotta keep on tryin'.
My buddy, Mark, is the best practice starter we've got. He just calls out, "On Your Mark, Git SEH-yuht" and then, "BAM!"--He slaps those starter boards together just like Coach Bowers does--and we're off.
At breakfast this morning, I was eatin' my two fried eggs with Mama's Hot Sauce when I asked again about a new pair of PF Filers. At first nobody responded, but then Butch said, "Yeah, Mom. He really needs 'em. All the fastest guys wear 'em now days."
He doesn't usually help me out that much, but he's bein' a real pal this time.
Daddy, of course, just says, "Three dollars is a lot of money for play shoes."
But Mom says, "We'll think about it. Now, finish up your breakfast and get ready to go -- All of you."
"And brush your teeth!" comes out of Daddy's mouth--As USUAL.
I fly past the pantry and toward the hall that leads to my bedroom, and I can't help it. I yell back, "Only three days to Field Day! I need my PF FLYERS NOW!" and I round the corner into my room to grab my stuff just before I'm able to hear the reply.
Back at North Heights for another practice race or two.
It's Wednesday mornin' and Field Day is Friday afternoon. Bruce says, "Let's practice the fifty first." and I'm fine with that because I come closest to winning in that race.
Our starting line is right under the big mesquite tree near 9th street, and all the 50-yard dash qualifiers get ready. As always, I pick lane one--the one nearest the school building and the American flag pole. Bruce settles in on my right, and the other guys fill in the remaining lanes.
Here comes Mark now with the wooden starting "gun," and he gets us ready and set.
And we're all off toward the finish line--
--And I lose again.--
I beat everyone but my friend Bruce, but I lose to him by a good 3 feet.
Dang shoes! I might as well give up. I haven't beaten Bruce in any sport since the day we both wound up in Mrs. White's third grade classroom.
And I'm proly Not gonna beat him on Friday.
Next we practice the 75, where Bruce and I are two of the qualifiers for that race too. I KNOW I won't win this one. Bruce's stride is long, but I run sorta in "low gear"--short, fast steps. So, by the time we pass the 50-yard dash finish line, he's really flyin', and I don't stand a chance over the final 25 yards.
Oh well. The 50 is my race IF I can just get my new PF Flyers.
Mom picks me up out in front of the grass on 9th street, and I'm glad I don't have to walk today. I wave goodbye to Tommy who only has to walk 2 blocks down Avenue C, and I'm surprised to see Mom travel on over to Main Street,
As she turns left, I ask where we're going 'cause I figure we're headin' off on some errand. She's already left Sterling at home since he got out at 2:30 with the other first graders.
Her answer is, "Don't you want a new pair of tennis shoes?"
Zoweeee! Do I?
"Yes Ma'am! Can we go get 'em now?"
"Sure. Let's just head on down to the Guarantee and see what they have."
I assure her that all the other guys got 'em somewhere, and I'm sure that Bruce got his at the Guarantee.
The pretty palm trees planted in the center section between north and southbound lanes of North Main pass slowly by on our left. Then I see Star Park where we had such a nice church Easter Egg hunt a few weeks ago. I'm still working on the chocolate bunny I got that Saturday afternoon. Ears and tail are already gone.
Finally I see Mr. and Mrs. Locke's house where I stayed a lot as a baby, and then comes Model Cleaners where Mr. Locke dry cleans Daddy's suits every now and again.
AND THEN--Downtown Del Rio!
There are stores and banks and more stores and the Rita Theater where we saw Davy Crocket die in the Alamo.
AND--There's the Guarantee store where we get our new Easter suits every spring.
AND--There's the same Guarantee store where we get our NEW SHOES!
NEW SHOES! I'm gettin' my very own PF Flyers so I can run my fastest ever!
And just in time...
Just one more day until the day of all days--North Heights Field Day!!!
It feels good to have your foot measured because the nice man who sells us everything we need tightens up that funny flat metal foot ruler thing all around your foot. It's just like a foot massage but pretty much totally different.
Anyway, he gets some numbers in his head and goes back in his big closet full of stuff for a few minutes.
Then it happens!
He walks out with a new red box with a black top, and he sits back down on his little stool right in front of me.
Out comes the first shoe, and I look up at mom while he strings the laces. She's smiling, but nothin' like me!
My very own new PF Flyer is on its way to my right foot!
Then, after the man gets the left shoe also tied up tight, I get to stand up and walk around.
The best part about this is the mirror. I can see my very own PF Flyers on MY feet, and they look great! Exactly three white stripes on both sides of both shoes--all of them slanted in the right direction--the FAST direction!
"Do they feel ok, Billy?" Mom asks, and I just keep on noddin' my head "Yes." In fact, I nod so hard that I almost get dizzy, and she says, "Ok, let's go pay for them and get on home. Prayer meeting tonight at church you know?"
Do I know? Heck yeah! I'll wear my new PF Flyers and run all over the church yard while she's playin' for choir practice with Vera Horn. I usually run barefoot in the deep green grass, but not tonight. Tonight is PF Flier night for sure!
Back at North Heights the next morning we're having our last practices before school. Most of the guys aren't out here, but Bruce and I are so serious about this.
We get ready for a 75-yard practice race, and my PF Flyers feel good. This time it's just the two of us, and we're starting where the finish line will be tomorrow. That means we'll finish near the fence that's just across the street from where Aunt Jo and Uncle Bob used to live.
No one is around to start us, but that's ok. Bruce just says, "Ready, Set, Go!" and we take off.
I know I'm not supposed to win, because it's the 75, and he's even got a good head start, but something feels different. I feel like I am really flying!
I zoom past Bruce and get to the finish line maybe 6 feet ahead of him.
AND, I am Mad at him!
"Why didn't you run this time?" I ask.
And he looks completely wacked out as he says, "I did!"
"What?--- I have NEVER beaten you in the 75!" ...and then I see boots.
He's wearing his cowboy boots today!
He couldn't run as fast as usual, but...
Wait a minute! He's beaten me before in his cowboy boots, but I just beat him.
And not by a little bit. THIS was a massacre!
He looks at my brand new PF Flyers as the bell rings for class time, and I see fear all over his face.
I guess we'll see tomorrow afternoon. I sure WILL be wearin' my very own PF Flyers--and I bet Bruce will NOT be wearin' his cowboy boots.
2:00 PM, Friday, May 8, 1964
North Heights Field Day
The teachers have put up banners and cool stuff all over the playground and the whole school is out here.
There are kids over by the monkey bars doing pull ups. Others are doin' the broad jump, and the fourth graders are about to run their 50-yard dash.
I'm standin' under the big mesquite tree watchin' Coach Bowers. He's totally dressed in white, and he seems to be so serious.
After "Get Set!", he raises a shiny silver pistol in his right hand, hesitates a second and then squeezes the trigger.
"Bang!"-----and Lots of smoke...
They run off into the distance, and I don't care who won or who lost. It's my race next!
After they all clear out down by the finish line, Mr. Mooney takes his bull horn and announces, "Fifth Grade Boys Fifty Yard Dash!"
This is it!
I walk toward my usual lane, but Coach Bowers stops all of us. He assigns lanes based on our qualifying times, and I wind up in the 5th lane with Bruce in the 4th.
I like to run on his left with him on my right, but I have no choice this time. So, I just remember that I beat him on this side yesterday morning when I didn't think he was really trying.
"To your marks!" I hear.
And we all kneel down and set our feet on our friends' feet behind us. That's so we won't slip on the start. Mark is behind me, and Mike is behind Bruce.
"SET!" Coach Bowers yells, and the whole world stops cold still. Silence falls all around as we come up into starting stances.
Every muscle is tight and ready to race..."
It seems like forever that I stair straight down at the caliche dirt in front of me, and then ...
And we're off down the white-lined lanes!
Everything is a blur. Run, Billy RUN!
My feet are moving faster than ever, and all I see is the finish line straight ahead!
I am REALLY flying, but so is every other boy in the race!
Pull, Pull, PULL!
After we cross the finish line, I coast to a stop and finally hear the crowd of students and teachers yellin'.
I look back toward the line, and I see Mrs. White with her hands on both of Bruce's shoulders. She's walkin' him away from the track and toward the crowd behind the rope.
And he's crying!
She's tryin' to make him feel better, and I feel sorry for him, BUT...
I am KING of the World!
- Present Day -
Bruce won the 75-yard dash that day and I came in second thus qualifying us both for the 50- and 75-yard dashes in our city-wide meet.
About one week later, all the winning athletes from all three elementary schools in our district met at Marcy Martin Field to compete against each other. Since we ran on soft grass and none of us had any kind of cleated shoes, we all ran either bare footed or in our socks.
That night, I won the 50 yard dash again – this time against the best 50-yard sprinters in our age bracket from all three schools. My time was 6.9 seconds.
I came in third in the 75-yard dash with Bruce winning that one. Coincidentally, a kid named Dennis came in second right in front of me. He later became the fastest sprinter in the history of Del Rio, if not the State of Texas.
I guess he was just beginning to warm up in the fifth grade. You Go, Dennis! What a beautiful runner you are!
Finally, our North Heights 4 X 75-yard sprint relay team took second place, but that was only because the older boys from Garfield were allowed to compete against us in that one event. We didn’t stand a chance, but…
… with first, second, and third place finishes, I was awarded one Blue, one Red, and on White ribbon, and I proudly wore them to school that next week on the day when all of the school’s winners were honored at a school-wide assembly.
I continued to enjoy running for the sake of running for a very long time thereafter, and …
… I bet I still have those three ribbons somewhere among my most prized possessions.