“My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.” —Mark Twain
Saw a ’55 Cushman Highlander motor scooter for sale last week at $5,500. That’s considerably more than the one I came within a heartbeat of calling mine when I was 12 years old.
Sixth grade was winding down at South Ward Elementary in Mount Pleasant, Texas, in the Spring of 1960 when my friend Gary Cornett did something that kindled one of the more serious unrequited love affairs of my life.
Just as I threw a leg over my bicycle headed home for lunch, Gary rolled up on his Cushman Highlander. “Nice looking scooter,” I said. Before I could start peddling, he hit me with, “Wanna ride it to lunch?” Some questions have only one logical answer at 12. I thanked him, jumped once on the kick-starter and was gone.
The wind in my face and the single-cylinder motor thumping below me while cruising up Redbud Street turned an ordinary lunch into a life-long memory. I parked under a shade tree and went in the house. Whether mom heard me coming, or it was just a keen mother’s intuition, I’ll never know.
“How did you get home?”
“Gary’s scooter,” I said nonchalantly, thinking that would soften her reaction. It didn’t.
“What are you doing riding someone else’s motor scooter,” she asked in that “mom” tone of voice.
“He offered to let me.”
“You know better,” she continued, her voice growing louder. “I don’t like those things. You could get killed … and damage Gary’s scooter. Eat your lunch right now and get it back to school. And, I don’t ever want to hear of you getting on one again—do you understand me?”
“Yes ma’am,” I said.
Scant weeks later while spending summer days with my grandparents down the road in Pittsburg, Texas, my grandfather invited me to ride with him up to W.R. DeWoody’s Western Auto. Another question with only one logical answer because I knew the drill: a stop at the Piggly Wiggly parking lot where he would let me drive. Guiding his ’57 Ford off the parking lot, I awaited his instructions that I already knew by heart, “Shift to second, turn on the back street, park at the back door. And, don’t tell your grandmother I let you drive.”
Once inside, he headed toward the front seeking help for whatever it was he needed. I went straight to the new Cushman scooters sitting near the wall helping myself to some daydreams. I was still dreaming when he came over, took the price tag that dangled from the handlebars in his hand, and said loudly, “Two hundred and nineteen dollars?” He followed that with a loud whistle to further underscore his opinion of the price.
Several seconds of silence passed. Then he asked, “Reckon you could ride that if I bought it?”
“I rode my friend’s,” I said as my heart raced at the thought of taking the scooter home. Then as fast as it had taken off, my heart flatlined when he decided, “I better not. If I bought that for you, your mother would have my hide.”
“We can keep it at your house,” I pleaded.
“Then your mother and your grandmother would have my hide,” he chuckled.
Mom also objected years later when I bought my first motorcycle at age 20, and again every time for some 35 years that I told her about one of my many trips riding throughout much of the U.S.
I was almost 40, however, before the next time I felt the wind in my face riding on a Cushman motor scooter. It was a nicely restored red Super Eagle acquired from Dennis Leggett at Leggett Cycle in Joaquin, Texas, and riding it was just as exciting as that lunchtime ride was at 12.
However, I honored my mom’s warning from the sixth grade. “I don’t ever want to hear of you getting on one again—do you understand me?”
She didn’t. Because I never told her about the one I bought from Dennis.
Photo credit—Top of page: 1959 Cushman Motors subsidiary of Outboard Marine Corporation magazine ad