Wednesday, 30 May 2012
The Blue Schwinn Bicycle
By Lyn Burnstine
I was privileged to spend glorious summers as a child of nature at my grandmother’s farm where I roamed the woods, fields and side roads freely and safely.
In the winters, I lived in an upstairs Main Street apartment shared with my father’s photography business, Schroeder's Studio. There, the opportunities for physical play were limited: I could roller-skate on the sidewalk below or in the nearby library park or walk to friends’ houses. None of them had swings or playground equipment, not even the school.
I could play in the grassy, railroad right-of-way behind our apartment but the slope of the only safe part of it made any kind of ball game difficult. Most of the active games had to be postponed until summers or week-ends in the country.
When I was six, my world opened up when my father surprised my sister and me with a brand-new blue Schwinn bicycle. It was the grandest, most expensive gift we had ever received.
I learned to ride, with my father holding me up, on the path right next to the railroad tracks. (Of course, I knew never to go that close to the tracks without him.) By the time the next summer in the country rolled around, I was a pro, although I remember taking my first bad spill on the rough, pebbly road —skinning knees and elbows in the process.
The neighborhood children lived miles away down those hot, dusty southern Illinois roads. Now I could play with them more often with the wind cooling my face as I rode, even though it meant racing furiously past a mean old bloodhound that I was sure would eat me up if he caught me.
Other than the ferocious dog, those country roads were completely safe for little kids. I doubt if even one car a day traversed it — a tractor or horse-drawn hay wagon maybe.
My sister and I would plunk ourselves down in the middle of the road, squatting on our haunches, to sift through the gravel for hours at a time. We were searching for, and found many, “Indian beads” — actually fish bones that probably were never touched by a Native American, but fascinated us with the exciting possibility.
On the rare occasion that a car came along, we had time to get to the side of the road; in that deep rural quiet we could hear a car motor from a mile away and see the dust plume that surrounded and announced its approach.
In early June, we had to forgo our riding for a few days while the road was paved with hot black oil sprayed out of a row of narrow spigots behind the sprayer truck. We were stuck at home while it hardened, then was covered with gravel.
We learned the hard way to keep the cat inside. Sometimes even little girls’ tarry toes had to be scrubbed with kerosene, from where we had tried to stay on the grass alongside — but slipped.
Soon, our father bought an old used boys’ bike, repaired and spruced it up with paint, a new seat and chain. My tomboy sister preferred it to the “sissy” girls’ bike, so now we didn’t have to share.
We sometimes rode together. I rode with friends as my childhood years flew by, but more and more, as I grew into my teens, bicycling became a solitary activity that I loved.
By then, my family was living full-time in the central Illinois corn-country. I would ride the three-and-a-half miles to the town library, put three books in the handlebar basket and ride home reading the fourth one. On those arrow-straight flat roads, I didn’t even need to steer so the book would be half-read by the time I got home.
My greatest joy and comfort came from riding my bike during the last half-hour of fading light when the evening became a bit cooler and I could capture any stray breeze. I rode back and forth to the corner crossroad dreaming of the exciting life I was going to have somewhere far away.
One of the few times I rode a bike in my adult years, I was, indeed, living far away on the Gulf coast. I was all of 20, married and pregnant with my first child. Two young boys rode past and I overheard one of them say, in his cute little Mississippi drawl, “I never saw an old woman ride a bike before, did you?”
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