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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Blue Schwinn Bicycle

By Lyn Burnstine

Grandma's Farm

Lyn and sister playing in the woods

The Schroeder girls at Schroeder's Studio

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?”

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Lyn - Neat story!

Ah - To be an elderly 20-year-old once more! - Sandy

Lyn I can feel the breeze on my face.

I still ride at 60 and have the bicycle I should have had when I was 17, a silver light weight beauty that cost a fortune.
I guess riding a bike makes me feel like I am a kid again. I'll keep it up until my knees give out.

I still ride and I will be 80 in January. I remember my first bike, it was a green one and I thought I was in heaven. There are a couple of hills that I must ride up (or glide down)to go anywhere from my house. If I don't ride for a couple of weeks, I notice a big difference, so I try to do it every day, even for a little bit. It helps my balance, too. Thanks Lyn, for the memories.

When I lived in Beijing those 10 years, it was flat so we all rode bikes, even me at 60ish, but Qingdao, like Seattle is all hills so I've given up that sport, but I do have many fond memories of bikes. My first was a balloon tired World, used of course as it was during the depression. But my Chinese husband at 84 still rides his bike here in hilly Seattle. Keeps him young and smiling.

Your description of riding your Schwinn Bicycle to explore the world beyond your backyard and the local park remined me of my 'vehicle' of youth, a riding horse, named Bonnie.

We lived on a farm. My favorite activity was reading. My folks began to think I was going to be a bookworm so one day my Dad came home with a riding horse complete with bridle and saddle. I spent many hours riding the country roads with 'Bonnie,' sharing my joys, sorrows, and hopes. She was my childhood vehicle for freedom and someone with whom I could talk even though it was a one-sided conversation.........Today I am not a bookworm, but I still love to read.
Thanks for bringing back this memory

I loved this story, Lynn. My first bicycle was also a blue Schwinn. It was my Christmas gift when I was 9. I lived in Texas at the time, and the freedom and adventure that came with that bike were magical. My best friend who lived across the street, and who was a year older than me, had gotten a bike a couple of years earlier and had been riding me around on the rear seat. She may have been happier than me when I got my own bike.

Hi Lyn,

We had a composite bike.In the heart of the depression we put together all the old bikes in the neighborhood and made one bike that you could actually ride.

It was a beauty. One red fender,one green fender, two different pedals, black seat,etc. and we couldn't wait til it was our turn to ride it.

Loved your story and especially loved the pictures!

Lyn, What a lovely evocative story. And the bit at the end about 20-year-old you on a bike being called a old woman was delightful.

Well done!

Loved it too...a friend got a Red Schwinn and we went as far north on the west side as the Geo Washington Bridge and back every chance we got..we lived on 62nd st & l0th ave..we rode Central Park from Columbus Circle to the end of the Park, which I think is ll0th st...city adventures from the am to suppertime...your story brought me right back to it..friend is battling cancer at the moment & when I send her cards I always talk about those days of the 50s before we were even teenagers..8/l0/ll..thanks for the ride today...

I loved your story. My father gave me a red scooter when I was six living in Mexico and like you, I felt freedom and joy every time I flew on it! These are the memories that stick with us forever. Thank you for sharing.

I remember riding my bicycle round and round our home reciting the multiplication tables. The routine and rhythm made learning them easy. Thank you for sharing your delightful story.

Tho there are decades between us, Lyn, I had such similar experiences with the bike and playing in the gravel, and the backroads that it could have almost been my story. Funny now how times have changed and kids no longer know what they are missing. I could ride now, but just never take the time. I might tho, now that you've reminded me how much I love it.

I finally got a bike at age 10, long after every other child in the neighbourhood, but I was "sickly" and my parents were very overprotective. It was a blue Schwinn and I loved it, though I was forbidden to ride further than the end of the street. I had it all the way through high school, and by then took long long rides with my girlfriends on dusty country roads. Wonderful memories Lyn, thank you for sharing!

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I love the variety of comments that our stories inspire--and the similarity of some of them. DO it, Beth--how I wish I could still.

I think of the pearl orange Schwinn my best friend had; not when we were kids but about 20 years ago. I was an avid rider then. His beautiful bike hung on his garage wall and he never rode.

I tried to get him to sell it to me. Of course he wouldn't. I offered big money, but he wouldn't budge.

Two weeks later while he was in the back cutting grass, someone stole it off his wall.

I had nothing to do with it--honest.

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