Vagneur: Her bike, my memories
It’s there in the garage, moved from one corner to another, dilapidated and in disrepair, but I cannot throw it away. A couple of new tires, some chain lube, a new seat, and other than the faded paint, it’d be good as new again. If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about my daughter’s first bicycle.
Perfect for a girl, I guess, pink in color with pin-striped black accents and white tires, but it always held a place in my heart by virtue of its name, “The Shadow.” Trust me, once she got the hang of it, Lauren and her bike could sneak up on you like a fast-moving cloud shadow on a sun-gilded, blustery day. Similar to a song on the wind, she was pure beauty maneuvering that two-wheeler around. How I loved to watch her ride.
First-bikes are a big deal, those things that require studied mastery to operate before a kid suddenly realizes that a bike presents huge freedom, a guaranteed way to feel the wind in your hair at your own command, the beginning lessons in understanding the relationship between speed and adrenaline and an ability to go places without your parents driving or walking you there. They also are a good way to use up the Band-Aid box in the medicine cabinet.
My first bike came on a Christmas Eve, parked in the hallway at my grandfather’s house. It was a beauty, worth a fortune in today’s “classic” bike market, a Schwinn, the very kind that made its manufacturer the only bike to have for a time. It had fat, white-walled tires, fenders front and back with a large, red reflector on the rear, just under the seat, as though there was ever much traffic in Woody Creek.
It was second-hand, well-broken in, but obviously well-cared for, a relic of one of the Popish kids in town, maybe Bernie, Joe or Louie, and the wide tires still held air. It wasn’t much in 2 feet of December snow, but come spring, I gave that beast hell. I could ride up the road to visit the neighboring Natal boys (now the Circle R), or down the road to the store and post office. I was forbidden to ride it into town, but I’m pretty sure I recognized my own limitations in that regard.
Mountain bikes hadn’t yet been invented, but it didn’t matter; I rode that bike all over the ranch, mixing it up with Hereford bulls and waspish mother cows. If my fishing partner Gramps wasn’t around, I’d ride that bike along the shores of Woody Creek until I found a good spot and then bring home dinner stashed in a straw creel slung over my shoulder.
We seem to outgrow the wonders of childhood and move on to more sophisticated toys. I raised a 4-H steer, not because I entertained dreams of him winning a blue ribbon, but because I thought he might bring enough at the county fair to allow me to buy a new, three-speed Raleigh bike. Yeah, OK, I was disappointed when Sneezer didn’t win the blue ribbon. Naturally, the Raleigh was selected from the big, thick catalog of Montgomery Ward & Sons, aptly nicknamed Monkey Wards.
We had horses to ride, Lauren and I, but after she’d worked her horse, she’d be astride “The Shadow,” stalking the neighborhood like no one else could. I’d be working one or two more horses and from the backs of them I could keep a reasonable eye on her. She’d fly down the dirt lane, peddling as hard as she could and then, with a critical and absolutely precise amount of timing, slam her foot down on the brake, coming to a sliding stop just feet from the main road. She hardly ever tipped it over or lost control and never thought it all was a big deal, at least not to me.
I never doubted her skill or questioned her responsible attitude. Sometimes she’d come holler at me, saying she was going to a neighbor’s house, but she’d be back soon, or instead of riding horses, I’d sit on the stoop and watch her ride the afternoon away. She rode that bike around all the trails near cow camp and she’d ride it out at the end of our visit.
And that’s how it goes, I reckon. Long ago she put away that childhood toy and grew into a beautiful young woman, married with a son and expecting a new arrival, their daughter, in the next couple of weeks.
Sometimes I kid myself, thinking my daughter might want that old bike for her children, but we both know she’s moved on into her own destiny, and the realization is mine alone that I save that old bike for the memories of her childhood that I so cherish.
Tony Vagneur thanks songwriter Jim Clare’s song “Watch Me Ride, Dad” for inspiring this column. Tony writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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