One Saturday morning in the fall of 1953 my father drove me and my disabled bicycle to Bill Green's shop on Spruce St to
repair the badly bent rim of the bicycle's front wheel.
It was usually crowded in Bill Green's bicycle shop on Saturday mornings. In the shop we waited our turn. I looked at new bicycles and enjoyed the smell of their new rubber tires. My father stood in the shop, waiting patiently. He seemed to know when Bill Green would look at my bike.
When it was time, Bill Green looked at the bike and blinked. "What happened here?" he asked quietly. My father, motioning to me, said someone caught his foot in the front wheel while he was riding it up Canterbury Street.
Bill winced and looked over the counter at me
"Lucky boy," said Bill Green, picking up the bike as if it were an unfolded newspaper and rested it silently on its seat and handlebars. Bill Green was short in stature but had powerful hands and strong shoulders. In a blink he removed the front wheelís two nuts, its tire and tube, then hoisted the rim onto a wheel stand on his countertop.
The bend in the rim was easy to see and easy to hear. Bill widened the gap between two steel fixtures serving as guides -- similar to a bench vise -- that sat at the bottom of the stand. With his left hand Bill reached just over his head to the top of the rim and gave it an easy spin. The rim came quickly to a softly grinding halt against one of the guides. Using a rim wrench Bill held in his right hand, he turned first one spoke then another two or three quarter revolutions, then softly spun the rim. It took a few seconds longer this time to grind to a halt and Bill used the wrench to turn the same three or four spokes a few more quarter revolutions.
As he spun the rim a third time he made adjustments, looking at the rim or its spokes once or twice but primarily listening carefully, looking at my father and me, in the same way a pediatrician with a stethoscope listens to a child's breathing while gazing at the parents.
My father spoke thankfully and appreciatively about how Bill Green had assessed and then fixed my brother's wrecked bike after a motorist had run over it four years earlier.
In one respect my brother had had better fortune than me -- he was not riding the bike at the time -- but he'd had the misfortune of being 14 years old and a lowly newspaper boy who reported for work at 5:30 a.m. An accident had occurred, though, and the police were involved in the case. The police had my brotherís story and the story of the grown woman in the car. My brother came in second on that dispute.
Given the two conflicting accounts, my father believed my brother and brought the bike to Bill Green's shop for a second, professional, impartial opinion.
As Bill Green adjusted the spokes in my bent rim, my father and Bill Green reconstructed the conversation about my brotherís bike as if it had happened a week earlier. My father had brought my brotherís bike to Bill Greenís shop and asked "Could this damage have happened to this bike if it were lying in the middle of the road?"
Bill Green remembered he'd looked carefully at the bike then said, "No," and pointed out where the frame was scraped and bent as if it had been hit by a sledgehammer (or a 90-pound 1949-era chrome automobile bumper). "If it were lying down, the tire and rim would look worse than the frame. The rim is OK and the tire is OK," Bill Green said.
My father loved to tell the story -- and he told it many times to anyone who'd listen -- of being awakened at 7 a.m. by a police officer who came to our house on a Saturday morning to report his findings after he'd closed his investigation of the car-bike accident.
I was awake at the time and at the age of seven must have blended into our furniture but in any case was not sent to my room and allowed therefore to witness the exchange
At one point in the tense discussion my father interrupted the officer and said, "Well, we took the bike to Bill Green's and Bill Green said the damage could not have been done to the bike if it were lying down, on the street or anywhere else."
Bill Green nodded gratefully as my father retold the tale.
The police officer must have understood Manchester's hushed reverence for the name Bill Green, certainly when it came to issues involving a bicycle. On such issues Bill Green had a huge and impeccable reputation in the town of Manchester.
We never heard another peep from anyone about my brother's alleged malfeasance.
The recollection ended and moved back to the rim of my bicycle. Bill Green's wise hands, weathered by many years of cuts, oil stains, and broken fingernails, were concluding restoration of the rim of my bike. My father, a toolmaker who hefted steel stock and operated lathes to grind the stock to precise specifications, had hands as big and strong and invincible looking as Bill Greenís. While my father could catch a baseball with his bare hands, Iíd never seen him make such skillful maneuvers as Bill Green was now performing on my bicycle rim. (I recall deciding I wanted to have hands that were as smart as and looked like Bill Greenís and my fatherís, not smooth like the schoolteachers' or the men who wore neckties and worked in insurance companies in Hartford.)
The repair was complete. The rim spun without interruption through the narrowest gap in the guides. Moments later Bill Green reinstalled tire and tube, and bolted the straightened rim onto the frame of my bicycle. My father paid Bill Green $2 and we wheeled my bike out of the shop and set it into the trunk of the family Pontiac.
Thanks to Bill Green, I was, my father said, back in business.
Michael A. Cronin, of Washington, D.C., grew up on Canterbury Street in Manchester, and graduated in the MHS Class of 1961.
Reproduced 2011 from www.mhs1955.com with permission of its webmaster Dick Jenkins.
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