Monday, September 9, 2013

In Recollection of my First Bicycle – Part 2

By: John David Magee

On the trip back to Igede after purchasing the bike, we picked up a missionary nurse who was coming to assist with the monthly medical clinic at the small "dispensary" at the bottom of our Igede compound. I'm not certain who the nurse was. It could have been Ms. Sanders, and probably was. It was a little later than usual, around 6:30 PM, before we got out of Oshogbo, headed to Ilesha; then down the main road a few miles further to Erinmo, where we turned off onto the bush, dirt, road that would wind through the hills and rain forest to a few other places and finally up to Igede.  I remember that road so well, having traveled it often over the years. During that time in the history of Nigeria, night travel was more of an adventure when it came to possibly seeing animals, than a real danger and hazard as night travel became after the Biafran war, when bandits and thieves became a problem.

Usually, Dad stopped at Oshogbo and gas up with the last available petrol (gas) station before getting to Igede, where we had our own fifty-five gallon drums of petrol stored in the garage. Then, at Ilesha, we typically would stop briefly and buy some fresh bread from the vendors who crowded around the car windows. That night, by the time we turned off the main road to head towards Igede, it was probably 7:30 or 8 PM. From there it was thirty miles, but would take about an hour under ordinary conditions. Not only was it dark, but it had started to rain really hard. This was not during the heart of the rainy season, otherwise we would not have been driving my Dad's '49 Chevy, and pulling a trailer. When the rains really got started, the only way to navigate these roads was by Jeep, in four-wheel drive; and, sometimes in "bull-dog" extra-low gear. So, this was just a hard rain, with nothing unusual to worry about, or so we thought.

Mother and Dad sat up front; Sid and I, and the missionary nurse in the back seat (I'm almost positive it was Ms. Eva Sanders, so I'm gonna call her that), when suddenly in the headlights appeared a tree across the road. This was not particularly unusual, especially when traveling on a dirt road through the woods. Part of Dad's travelling equipment was a good, sharp axe, because this kind of roadway interruption was routine. Years later, he added a chain saw to his car supplies. It's just impossible for ordinary Americans to appreciate how much good will was generated over the years by Dad with his chain saw.  But, not that night, when there was neither a chain-saw, nor an audience.
He stopped the car; left the engine running so he would have lights to work by; put on his boots and raincoat (he ALWAYS carried his boots!); got his axe; and, cut out one section of the tree, to give us enough room in the road to drive around. Not a problem. Until about a half mile further, there was another tree down. He repeated the routine. Another quarter-mile down the road; another tree down. Some of these were pretty formidable. It was not just the cutting of the trunk, limbs and assorted vines, and pulling these out of the road in the rain. It was the ants, the original and eternal habitants of trees in Africa. It was dark; there were all kinds of fire flies and sounds in the forest. Mother's job was to keep calm and order in the car.

Twenty-nine trees and many hours later, we were only seven miles from home in Igede.  It was nearly five o'clock in the morning, and Dad had been cutting trees all night.  Suddenly we were confronted with a HUGE tree across the road. No way that trunk was going to be cut with only Dad’s axe! He got out of the car with his flash light; surveyed the situation; looked further down the road and saw another huge tree. In the past ten hours or so, we had traveled maybe fifteen miles. He knew it would have to go to "Plan B” and we yielded to the situation. Somehow he managed to back the car and trailer to a clearing in the road, so we would be at less risk of a tree falling on us and we waited out the rest of the night there. It wasn't until morning that we fully realized the extent of the damage that a tornado had done!

At day break, Mother, Ms. Sanders, Sid and I walked into town, over and around the fallen trees; secured the services of the only taxi in town (or at least someone who had a car), and went on to Igede. Dad stayed behind with all of the able men in town, and together they finally got the road cleared in time for Dad to get to Igede around mid-afternoon. Years later, we would still pass the remaining logs of those trees on the outskirts of Ara, reminding us of that night - long after I had outgrown that bike. 




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