Sunday, December 09, 2007


The kids are getting bicycles for Christmas this year. Shiny, new bikes. A purple one for my daughter and an electric blue one for my son. Thirty-eight dollars each.

I got my first bike when I was six, the same as my son is now. It was a Christmas gift from "Santa Claus," but it was obviously used. Used hard and put up wet. I think it had belonged to a co-worker of my mother. It had originally been red, or blue, and someone had painted over that with blue, or red. The paint was so flaked that I never could figure out it's real color. And it was huge. It was an enormous adult's bike, and I was a small child. I was afraid it would fall on me and crush me before I ever managed to mount it. I didn't even try to ride it. Maybe my parents were disappointed, I don't know, but I don't think they paid anything for it anyway. It stayed in the barn.

Time went by. We moved across the highway and a few miles farther away from town. The bike came with us. I grew up a little.

When I was 11 or 12 years old, I was spending the weekend at my grandparents' house along with a cousin who is a year younger than I. A different cousin, who was not there at the time, had left her bicycle there. A kid's bicycle. Neither of us knew how to ride a bike yet, so we decided we would use that bike to learn. We took turns riding that bike to the end of their driveway and back for several hours that day. By the time we were finished, we could ride a bike.

When I got back home, I broke out the old Christmas bike. It still looked like junk and the tires were flat. But I had a pump that my dad had bought me so I could air up my basketball, and I used it to pump up the bike's tires. And then I got on and took off. I remembered my dad asking me when I learned to ride a bike, and I told him about the previous weekend.

A couple of weeks later, I sanded most of the paint off of that bike and repainted it with day-glo orange spray paint. You could see it coming for miles.

I had a few spectacular crashes on that bike. For one thing, the brakes didn't work that well. Also the balance was off and it felt like I was always trying to steer a little to the side just to keep going straight. Later on, my mother mounted an extra seat above the rear wheel so I could strap in my youngest sister and take her for rides.

The cousin who that kid's bike belonged to passed away last year. I don't think she ever knew I learned to ride on her bike.

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