“Make sure she gets on the bike again,” Dad instructed Dorothy after my heel was bandaged. We all knew what he meant; I needed to ride again to overcome the fear of getting hurt. In challenging life situations, our father was known to say, “It’s like getting thrown off a horse; you just have to get back on again.” I was glad he didn’t say that this time because he made it clear that I could not have a horse.
For a time, I rode passenger when my sisters wheeled out the girl’s bicycle. After the heels-in-the-spokes incident, Mom insisted that bicycle riders wear shoes. At first, I clung to the handlebars, tennis shoes resting on the front fender where my heels were farther from the spokes. Eventually, I was back in the saddle, the passenger seat behind the driver.
When Delmer was seven, Dad brought home a 20” two-wheeler. “Roadmaster” glistened in silver letters on the wide red crossbar. Matching fenders extended from the bright red frame. The smaller wheels suited my brother perfectly. He stood on the pedals to power up hills. On downhill treks he sat, feet circling so fast the spokes blurred, pushing his bicycle beyond coasting speed.
Delmer fondly remembers his Roadmaster. “That bicycle changed my life. It gave me a sense of freedom.” No more walking to the Quonset or the barn. Why walk when you have wheels? He even discovered an easy way to ride through the pasture. The gate between the pasture and shelterbelt consisted of three strands of barbed wire wound around several narrow four-foot posts. Delmer simply lifted the bottom wire, scooted his bike under and then crawled between the lower and middle wires. In a jiffy he was trailing down the smooth cattle paths on his way to check gopher traps or take lunch to Don or Dad in the bordering fields.
Speed matters, and our father understood. He would give his son a shove on that bike to get him going even faster down the hill that led to the hog house.
As Delmer grew older, he ventured on longer rides. Probably imagining he was competing in the Tour de France, he headed out the driveway. No matter which way he turned, tall hills loomed, but flying wildly downhill like a car on a rollercoaster was worth the grueling uphill grind. After the four-mile jaunt around the section, he would come racing into the yard. Chickens kept an eye out for the Red Baron, ready to take a squawking flight to the coop.
If I was out in the yard, my brother would whiz right by me and slam on the breaks. The back tire stopped turning and gouged a furrow into the ground. Then we would examine the track left in the loose gravel and compare it to the last sliding, rock-crunching halt. Always in life it is important to better one’s last endeavor.
On one of those show-off episodes, Delmer decided it was time for me to learn to ride. He may have felt bad that I never got the horse I wanted, or maybe he arrived at his strive-for-your-best philosophy at a young age and wanted to convey it to his little sister. Whatever the reason, he hauled the training wheels out of the shed and attached them to the rear bike wheels. I careened through the yard, touching down on one side wheel then jostling to the other. It was fun to spin around the yard. I could even stop and remain seated without putting my feet on the ground.
I mastered steering, braking and balance (okay, two out of three). After the intensive, all-encompassing training session of maybe two hours, my brother decided I was ready. He removed the stabilizing side wheels and stood next to the bike.
“Okay, DeAnn, you can do it.” Hesitantly, I swung one short leg over and tried sitting on the seat. The fact that the machine tilted dangerously to the left should have beeped a warning, but he straightened the bike and gave me a little shove.
I pushed down on the right pedal. The front tire wobbled. The wheels stopped turning. I crashed. The handlebar grip and the edge of the pedal and my left knee, skidded in the gravel. Pain shot through my leg, and I just knew there were half-inch boulders jabbing into my skin.
Delmer stood the bike up on its wheels. I stared as he examined the entire left side. He carefully brushed dust off the pedal. He cleaned pebbles from the handlebar and peered in the hole at the end to see if there were any loose rocks inside. He shined up the “Roadmaster” decal with the bottom of his shirt.
Finally, he looked down at me, still sprawled on the ground, clutching my leg in excruciating pain. He grinned. “At least you didn’t hurt the bike much.”
I frowned. I looked pointedly at my gravel-infested knee. Blood oozed from three dark holes. Red scratch marks perforated the skin.
He gave a fleeting glance to my probably-fatal wound. “You’ll be all right. Now try it again.” He waited next to the bike. “Come on. You almost did it. You rode… (he measured the ground with his eyes) …almost five feet.”
I stood up, wincing with pain. I swiped at the stream of blood running down my leg.
Did I ride again? Find out next week!
Kruempel’s books, the “Promises to Keep” series, are available at Amazon.com. Watch for her soon-to-be-released book, Once Upon a Midwest Sunset, a compilation of the stories from the NOOKS AND CRANNIES column. Contact her at email@example.com and receive free weekly stories, recipes, photos and updates.
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