“The Taste of Freedom,” Jan. 15, 2019

Have you ever watched a child learning to ride a bike, getting that first taste of freedom?

I thought my tricycle was cool until I was 5, and couldn’t fit my knees under its handlebars. Years later, while my cousin was busy chasing his sister with a BB gun, I borrowed (without asking) his two-wheeler, figured out how to ride it and thought, “Where’s this been all my life?”

I loved the wind in my hair, the colors flashing by my eyes and, yes, the taste of freedom. I was in two-wheeler heaven dreaming of all the places I would go. Until I hit gravel and crashed.

Spitting out a mouthful of dirt and blood, I was ready to ride again. Then I saw my cousin coming for me with his BB gun. So I ran inside to ask my mother if I could have a bike of my own. Her eyes flashed fire as she marched me in the bathroom to clean me up and set me straight.

“Smart girls don’t ride bikes,” she said. “You need to learn to avoid things that can kill you!”

My mother had been hurt in lots of ways, but never, to my knowledge, by a bike. She would later give me similar warnings for boats, planes, travel of any kind, and people who had more money than sense.

I loved her, but I also loved freedom. Somehow I knew, as children often do, that freedom is always a risky business. I didn’t argue. I just kept riding and crashing borrowed bikes and tried not to let her know.

I got my first bike when I was 24, after my first child was born. I’d buckle him in a baby seat in back and we’d ride to the park or the beach. I did that with his sister and brother, too. I crashed once with his sister and she refused to ride with me again.

One of my best memories is riding with my youngest when he was 2, and feeling him pat my back in time to a song we sang at the top of our lungs.

A few years later, he tried riding my bike on his own, but crashed on the basketball court and broke the baby seat to bits. He now has a daughter who is learning to ride. Eleanor Rose is nearly 4, entirely fearless and even more lovely than her name.

For Christmas, she asked for a bike. A blue one, to be exact. She had watched her brothers (Randy is 8, Wiley is 6) and their buddies rock’n’roll and crash’n’bleed on bikes and skateboards and scooters. She was well aware of the risks. But she grew weary of watching and asked herself a question that she will likely ask countless times in her life: “How hard can it be?”

The answer was clear. If the guys could do it, she could, too.

And so, Eleanor Rose made up her mind. She wanted a bike of her very own to ride like the wind with her long hair flying, her family cheering and her doll, Baby Honey, bouncing in a basket on the handlebars. She wanted to show herself and the world that she could ride with the best of them. And, oh, the places she would go.

So she told her parents and her grandparents and her brothers and Santa and God and all His angels. And Christmas morning, she was thrilled to get a little blue bike with training wheels and a little pink helmet for her little hard head.

I wish you could see her.

I’ve seen her ride only once, but she’s coming over next week and bringing her bike to ride on the basketball court where her dad broke the baby seat. Not to worry. She’ll be safe. I’ll watch her like a cat on a gopher.

But when she is ready, I hope she will always taste freedom, even if it comes with risks. Little risks. No big ones. Only minor.

Maybe someday when I’m gone, she’ll buckle her best memories of me into a baby seat on a bike and take me for a ride. She will pedal. I’ll direct.

We will ride like the wind, my grandgirl and I, with our hair flying wild, singing at the top of our lungs. We’ll taste freedom together, if only in spirit.

And, oh, the places we will go.

 

Comments

  1. Shashi says:

    As I read the column in one breath, I was remembering my teenage and childhood when I learnt and covered hundred miles to and from home to school. I used bicycle as only means of transport till I graduated from university. My husband used bicycle to and from home and office and same my daughter did for few days. Our kids replaced cycle with bus for school as it was far😅. Then after many years all of us moved to US and forgot to ride a bicycle. We drive car and use cycle for fun. I am too old to use it. Thank you as always you write so true stories.

  2. nancyjean bradford says:

    Thank you for this sorely needed work of hope and love in these troubled times. May all little girls have a Grandma who encourages them, as you did, to spread their wings and fly!

  3. Kate Sciacca says:

    Eleanor Rose…. we have a Rose Marie… and she has a baby sister (due in early March) named Charlotte Jeanne. Just love these classic names 🙂

    I bet sweet Eleanor will love learning to ride with her nana… and hearing all the stories that started on that basketball court – even those that have nothing to do with wheels or baby seats and crashes 🙂 Enjoy!

  4. Janette Beam says:

    You are so good at telling the truth!
    I look forward to all of your choices of life it’s own self. Also love you for spell check on your reply’s.

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