This two-part story was first posted on the late, unlamented (trust me, I saw the stats) Felloffatruck Publications blog on 20 February 2007. I’m reposting it at the request of a friend. Who knows, maybe I’ll start a series. OFP’s Greatest Mis-hits. Why not? There’s a precedent.
By now, I reckon most of the regulars here have discovered Quilldancer’s bicycle story. If you haven’t, I’ll see if I can get her to re-post it. It’s an important part of this story.
Besides, it’s a howl. There she is, our Quilly as Marlene Brando, the Wild One, Leader of the Pack at the ripe old age of nine, the coolest kid with the coolest bike, and prepared to prove it right to the edge of existence in the raspberry patch at the bottom of the cliff. Makes you wonder who’s really writing Quilly’s blog. I mean, this person survived childhood, like, how?
Me? I would have been at the top of that cliff, watching. Maybe. More likely still, I would have been the kid yelling at the pack from the safety of his own backyard, “You’re going to get in trouble!!” Yeah, that’s a man card violation. As if I’m going to worry about that now. I’ve got so many man card violations on my record, I’m surprised I wasn’t sentenced long ago to wear a lace dress for the rest of my days. Most probably, the sentence was commuted to blogging, so I don’t scare the neighborhood dogs, to say nothing of the children.
I vividly remember my first bicycle. Also my last one. (Author’s Note, 25 July 2008: I still haven’t replaced that last bike. Basically, that’s because O‘ahu spells ‘bicycle’ S-U-I-C-I-D-E; we’ll come back to this another time. Author’s Note 2, 20 February 2022: it never did get replaced, and won’t ever be, now.) But you know that story already. Back to the first. I was nine, I think. The bicycle was an all-red Columbia 5-star or something like it. One speed, coaster brakes. And bigger than I was. Not to mention heavier. Remember that “heavier”, we’ll be coming back to it.
I don’t recall having any say about the bicycle. I think I would have preferred to get an American Flyer steam engine, if anyone had asked me. It just showed up one spring day, and I was expected to learn to ride it.
First challenge was getting on. Now all the rest of you, I’m sure, know how you’re supposed to get on a bicycle. You get on the left side of the bike, plant your left foot on the left pedal, then push off with your right foot, hiking it over the frame and onto the right pedal in time to start pedaling before you lose momentum and fall into the lilacs. Now this maneuver isn’t too terribly complicated, but it does require you to have some confidence in keeping that left pedal still long enough to perch your foot on it.
As far as I was concerned, that left pedal may as well have been a cake of soap on a skating rink. I’d plant my foot on it, and the damned thing would shoot this way or that way, and I’d wind up in the mountain laurel with the bike on top of me, before I even got my right foot off the ground. I did mention the bike was heavy, didn’t I? Don’t forget, we’re not done with that yet.
Now, unlike a certain lady of my acquaintance, I’d already, by age 9, developed a certain feeling of sufficiency when it came to pains inflicted by the infernal machines we had the damned gall to call “toys”. Already, three years previously, which was the last time before this winter that I could recall being able to walk on top of a snowfall without falling in, I had had enough.
The offending object this time was a sled, a device for killing children on snow that I haven’t seen in years and years, it having been replaced by plastic sheets and unaided body surfing, sometimes intentional. In what was to be my last effort at daredevil antics (remember, I was six), I had, the previous summer, built a little mound in the middle of the sled run we had in the back of our house, down a pathetic little slope we called a “hill”. It was actually a fossil sand dune and it might have been thirty feet high. Anyway, I now had a sled jump, and I was so proud.
Came the big day. We had ice on top of snow. Perfect for sledding. I’d really get some speed going now. Today, Marshfield. Tomorrow, Nordic ski jumping on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. I scampered to the top of the run, slammed down the sled, ran three steps and jumped on. Just as I hoped, the sled roared down the hill, hit the jump and went airborne. Wheee!!
The sled came down on the other side of the jump. Its front runners punched through the ice crust on the snow and plunged into the powder beneath. And the sled stopped dead.
I did not.
Memo to naïve kids making their first sled runs on ice-covered snow. Frozen crusts make excellent sandpaper. Especially when applied to the face. I slid twenty feet, mostly on my nose, and made a first acquaintance since the age of cognition with the sight of my own blood.
When I realized what had happened, I did some more running.
That’s the man card violation at the bottom of the stack.
And it meant that I had precious little patience with having a bicycle land on me all the time because of a left pedal that would not stay still. (Were you wondering when we’d get back to the bicycle?) I didn’t have that kind of patience then, nor ever again. To this day, I get on a bicycle by hiking my right foot over the frame and onto the right pedal, with my left foot firmly on the ground, and stabilize that right foot on the pedal before pushing off with the left foot.
It took me an awful long time to learn how to ride that bike. But I finally managed it. And I’ll say this much. I might be a slow adopter, but once I get something going, I stick with it. That red Columbia was the absolute opposite of cool. It might define stodgy. But I didn’t care. There were no kids in my neighborhood to worry about being cool for. The school kids had already written me off as a walking dictionary, so who cared about them anyway. This bike was transportation, and I was going to use it as transportation. Half a dozen years later I would still be using it as transportation, mostly to get to the golf course where, from age 10, I earned money caddying.
Only one problem. I was still nine. The bike was still bigger than me. And it was spring in eastern Massachusetts. Which means spring thaw. That period of time between the melting of the snow and the burgeoning of the summer grass, that New Englanders since the Pilgrim Fathers have learned to know and love. Well, learned to know, anyway.
– O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2007 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.