Bicycle Love (Part 1)
I have had a lifelong love affair with the few bicycles I have owned. I have owned four bikes in my 60 years on this beautiful planet and I have loved each of them. Four is a modest number to most, but to me, it has been perfect. The bicycles themselves have evolved throughout my life, but the feelings they evoke in me have not. Bicycles are many things to many people. To me, they hold a great significance and are symbolic of simplicity, movement, and freedom. They have always allowed me to be filled with a childlike joy and to freely move forward in my life. They were my mode of transportation for many years and have always helped keep my heart happy and my legs and heart pumping quite nicely.
I am quite passionate about life’s simple pleasures and bikes elicit simplicity and joy. Bicycles are a beautiful way to keep fit, enjoy the outdoors, and are kind to mother earth. One might be bold enough to say that they lead us quite happily in the direction of our future. I invite you to get on a bike and go for a joy ride. It is good for your body, mind, and soul. Awaken the child that lives within. You will not be disappointed.
Get on your bike and feel the wind blowing through your hair. You can ride in any kind of weather. Allow the sun or rain to place kisses upon your cheeks as you ride. Pedal as if you were once again a child getting that first taste of freedom and independence. You can’t help but grin from ear to ear. In my opinion, it is the closest thing there is to flying without wings.
There were 12 children in my family and my parents could not afford to purchase bikes for all of us. There were a few old bikes lying around the house that we learned to ride on, but we had to share and the bikes were too big for me to ride comfortably, but that did not stop me from learning to ride them. As with many material things I longed to have as a child, I dreamed of owning my very own bike. Picture a skinny, shy, girl with long brown hair and freckles riding a boy’s 10 speed bicycle with her left foot on the left pedal and her right foot on the right pedal…the only difference would be that my right leg was threaded underneath the bar in order for me to reach the right pedal. It was very challenging to ride a 10 speed boy’s bike with my leg under the bar so my feet could reach both pedals. That was me. I had a fierce determination and the desire to ride a bike. This memory has vividly been etched in my mind.
My father used to own a Goodyear Tire Store. When he first opened his business and was selling tires and service he also sold bikes and boats. The first bicycle I ever fell in love with was on his showroom floor. It was a shiny, brand new, rust-colored, boy’s style Schwinn Stingray bicycle with a banana seat and sissy bar. I was in love. This beautiful bike was calling my name. A plan began to form in my 10-year old mind as to how I could purchase this little bit of heaven. A bike that was my size and all mine. I dreamed of owning this bike and riding to the beach, racing around the neighborhood, and riding this beauty in the bike contests my older brother Kevin used to organize. I knew that if I owned this bike, I might win one of his contests.
I won first place in a writing contest in third grade and the prize was a $25.00 savings bond. Dad had a safe at work and it housed this coveted savings bond of mine. I could take that $25.00 and add the money I had saved from babysitting and the money I earned from cleaning the Goodyear Store bathrooms on Saturday mornings. As you can imagine, it took hours of babysitting @ .50/hour and hours of cleaning the Goodyear Store on Saturdays. It took me a very long time, but I had saved enough money to buy my dream bike from my father's store.
My aspiration of owning this bike had come true. I paid my father for the bike and I left his store walking taller than I ever had before in my young life. I know that there was a smile plastered on my face as I climbed on my new bike and started for home. The sun was shining and there was not a cloud in the sky. It was a beautiful mile ride home from the Goodyear Store that glorious day. Freedom, pride, and pure joy were pulsating through my young veins as I pedaled home. I floated in the air as if I had wings.
I observed all of the safety rules regarding riding bikes that I had learned from the Police officers that came to visit my elementary school that year. They brought Mike the Talking Bike. It was a very effective teaching tool because I remember it from 50 years ago. Mike the Talking Bike would say, “Look mom no hands...look mom no teeth!” We were taught to never show off while riding our bikes by taking both hands off of the handlebars while pedaling. I may have broken that rule a few times in my life, but not that first day of being a bike owner. We also learned the proper arm signals for making right and left hand turns and the hand signal for stopping. I was good to go.
I looked both directions before I crossed the busy street in front of the Goodyear Store. I rode through Boyd and Jack’s grocery store parking lot and took a right hand turn onto Bridge Avenue. I got on the sidewalk that ran next to Fountain Lake. I crossed over the channel that connects Fountain Lake to Albert Lea Lake and the fast-rushing water splashed over the grates and the smell from the lake rose up and wafted into my nostrils. The smell didn’t bother me today. I rode on.
I rode as fast as I could down the tree-lined sidewalk on Bridge Avenue. There were so many tree canopies above my head it blocked out the sun for a block or two. These trees were also home to many species of birds. As a kid, I thought for sure the birds intentionally tried to poop on anyone that dared to ride or walk down the street beneath the hundreds of birds. I rode like the wind trying to avoid any bird droppings that often fell from the sky along that particular route. I had been pooped on before. Not today my friends.
I decided to turn off of Bridge Avenue a block before Sheridan Avenue where I would normally turn to go home. I thought I might swing past the candy store for a sweet treat. Russel’s Candy Store was a cute little old-fashioned convenience store that was attached to the backside of Russell’s home. The small convenience store was tucked into a neighborhood that was only 4 blocks from my home. I parked my bike and I went inside to peruse the penny candy aisle and buy myself some candy in celebration. My favorite candy to purchase was Sixlets, Now and Laters, or I could get 2 caramels for 1 penny. I didn’t have very much money leftover so I chose wisely. I chose the most candy for the least amount of money possible. I was a wise consumer at a very young age.
When I emerged from the store happily clutching my little brown paper bag half filled with penny candy, my smile soon faded and my demeanor had suddenly shifted to disbelief. My beautiful rust-colored stingray was nowhere in sight. Where was my bike? I could not believe it. Was this a joke? Was one of my siblings lying in wait with my beautiful new bike just hidden out of sight? Were they just waiting to see my reaction? It was entirely possible and quite probable that one of my siblings had done just that.
Nope. No siblings came out from hiding. My bike was gone. Are you kidding me? Someone had stolen my bike on the very day I purchased it. I couldn’t believe it. I started to run around the neighborhood in search of my stolen bicycle. I looked up and down the street and ran from yard to yard. As I reached the alley a few homes away I noticed a few kids half way down the alley and they were taking turns riding my bike and laughing. I was furious.
I took off like a shot down the alley that day. The adrenaline was pumping through me, something fierce. There was no fear in me as I ran as fast as I could to catch the thieves who had stolen my bike from Russell’s candy store. I grabbed the handlebars on my bike to stop the kid from getting away from me. I lectured the kids about taking my bike. I am pretty sure I hauled off and socked the kid on my bike. I didn’t have time to think about what I was doing. I was totally in survival mode. I was a skinny, shy kid who normally would not have responded in such a way. I would have been too scared had I taken the time to think about it ahead of time. I reacted swiftly. There was no way I was leaving this alley without my new bike.
I learned many lessons that day. I could do anything that I set my mind to do. I saved every penny I earned and bought a bike that would change my very existence. I knew how to ride my bike safely and how to get from one place to another. I knew when push came to shove I could handle myself in a crisis situation. I was one tough cookie at the age of 10. There is much to glean from the child that lives within. Never lose the joy that lives in your heart. Get to know her again. She will show you the way.
I watched my bike very closely after that incident at Russell’s Candy Store that day and eventually I purchased a bike lock. I won a few bike races that Kevin organized that summer. First place prize was a can of 7UP. It doesn’t seem like much of a prize today, but back then when we rarely, if ever, got pop, it was the best and most delicious prize ever.
Years later when my brother, Kevin had passed away. I put his ashes in the basket on the front of my bike and my sister Mary and I gave Kevin one last ride through the neighborhood. We pedaled our bikes and followed his old bike race course and scattered a few of his ashes at a nearby park where we played as children. It was a joyful ride and I know he was smiling down from heaven and enjoying every minute of the ride.