Besides baseball, when the weather was warm, I loved to ride my bike. When I was a little girl, I learned to ride a bicycle much later than most of my friends. It was difficult to learn with limited smooth surfaces to practice on and when the driveway leads downhill into the road, and especially hard without a bike of my own.
Deanna had a bike ’cause she was oldest; oldest kids got a lot of stuff they handed down when they outgrew it, but I was pretty sure it would be a long time before Deanna outgrew that bike, she seemed about as tall as Mom already, and besides that, her bike was a big bike.
Aunt Annie, who was a high-schooler, gave her bike to Deanna. Deanna didn’t let me ride ’cause she said I would tip it over and get it all dirty and dented. Deanna’s bike was shiny blue with white stripes, and looked just like new, ’cause Aunt Annie lived in town and had a sidewalk all around as far as a person could walk or ride. We had a little sidewalk shaped like a backwards L, one side to the garage and the other to the clothesline, enough to roller skate, play hopscotch, and jump rope, but no room to build up speed on a bike.
One day Dad brought home a truckload of old bikes. He hitched up his belt and combed his fingers through his hair, as he told us all about his great find. He just vibrated with happiness.
“There’s your new bikes.” he said. “Look at all those perfectly great parts. These bikes were going in the junkyard, and I got them for FREE. Can you believe it.” Dad told us all about how we would work together to get new bikes for all of us, even Deanna, if she wanted a brand-spanking-new bike. I got all quivery inside thinking about taking those old things apart and making new bikes; by the way Bonita looked, she was just as excited: she started hopping on one foot, then the other, her brown-brown eyes looking as twinky as Dad’s blue ones did. Usually Bonita’s eyes looked kind of sad, even when she was happy on account of the brown, almost-black color, but this day, she just dazzled all over like the way a blacked-eyed-susan does right after the rain stops and the birds start singing in the trees and the whole world just shouts happiness.
There must have been about a hundred of those bikes: big bikes, little bikes, red bikes, blue bikes, boys bikes, girls bikes all stacked up in the tool shed. None of them worked. Except of course for Deanna’s. She parked her bike on the other side of the shed, up close to the wall, like she thought ‘broken’ was like the measles, and her bike might catch it from that pile. I had the measles in kindergarten; Mrs. Brown had to wake me up to send me to the bus, and the high-schoolers were coming in the room already. I knew high-schoolers used that room after I went home, but now they were all looking at me all curious, like they never saw a kindergartener before, so I felt way littler than I really was and I wished I was even littler. When I got home, Mom saw the spots all over me and sent me right to bed; I didn’t even care ’cause I was so tired.
For a while, Bonita and I just planned out what our bike would look like. Hers would be silver, mine red. Red was my favorite color, everything I could get red, was red: red jacket, red beret hat, red mittens in the winter. My red crayola was all worn down, so it’s hard to get a smooth line. We got the bikes all sorted, turned them upside down so they rested on the seat and the handlebars, they we tried out the gears and then the brakes. I liked propping a big bike up and climbing up on the seat and pretending it worked. I could ride no handed like that, with my eyes shut.
Bonita and I just imagined like that for weeks, dreaming about our new bikes and what they would look like. Dad helped us find enough parts to put two whole bikes together that worked perfectly. Mom showed us how to paint them with spray paint, first an undercoat, then put on masking tape where we wanted a design, then a top coat of the main color. Red for me, just like I dreamed. Of course, by now, you know about me and paint. I was red all over for quite a while, and not like that joke about the newspaper, ’cause spray paint goes all over the place and doesn’t just wash off. The smell of paint got all up in my nose and head and stomach so I had a headache and felt queasy, too. That was awful. My Keds had red speckles, from helping Bonita, all summer long, that was a bonus prize, ’cause now I had red on all the time.
Those were the best looking bikes I ever saw.
I learned to ride, after a lot of falling down, bruising, and Deanna was right, my bike got dented and sometimes I fell so hard, grass got wedged in under the fender. I learned how to ride no-handed and put my feet up on the handlebars, and a few other tricks. I still think about that bike, when I get my 1o-speed out in the spring. I still coast down the hill standing on the pedals, feel the wind in my ears, and lean over the handlebars with one leg pointing back, just for the pure glee of it.
I felt proud of that bike, and my part in putting it all together. Best of all, I got a chance to experience the sweetness of anticipation becoming reality. That’s a sweetness every child should get the chance to taste.