When I learned to ride a bike, we didn't go in for any of this sissy stuff. I cut my teeth (and other parts of my body) practicing with no training wheels on a long long gravel driveway in rural Virginia -- spanning three acres worth of sharp rocks and wild flowers and blue blue sky and barbed wire, which was far enough away that was no real danger of wiping out into the fence. It was the neighbor boy's bike, and none of us wore helmets, or (often enough) shoes. Somehow we survived, though. We were all of us tough and skinny. The gravel driveway, or the freshly-mown field (baled for hay by a neighboring farmer) were as nothing to our hobbity feet.
(In fact, the only serious injury I recall anyone getting took place on the path. My brother and the boy next door, the one his age, were walking on the path mown between our house and his, coming from the baseball field. My brother was swinging the bat over his shoulder, as kids will do, and the other boy was following too closely behind him and was bashed in the eye. He needed stitches and probably still has the scar, but he was okay.)
So, the bike. I think the neighbor had a typical boys' mountain bike, and it served us all fine. But as I got older I had a hankering for something different. I didn't ever intend to go biking in the mountains (and truly, I've never done such a thing since) and I wanted a bike that looked more like the ideal bike in the mind of me. And lo, I saw such a thing at the local K-Mart: a blue (or was it red?) woman's bike, not a girls' bike, with an elegant line and not fussy like some ladies' bikes are wont to be, and with the handlebars that curved under and looked so grown-up. It cost $100, which was a virtually unheard-of fortune to my financially virgin ears. I started saving up -- a few quarters here, a dollar there, bits and drabs and limp bills, folded and unfolded and counted again and shoved back into a dingy envelope. I didn't have a steady source of income, and then my family was making plans to move out of state, and as time passed the idea of a bike lost its initial luster (probably aided by the glacial pace of my savings) and I started considering a desk. A desk, like I'd seen at K-Mart, with the pencil drawer and the file drawer and maybe a secret compartment (the models at K-Mart didn't have that feature, but I thought maybe I could build one). I didn't buy that either, and I don't know what I spent my money on. That's the way of it as you get older.
Now my daughter, a few days shy of six years old, has suddenly found her bike legs. In the course of a week she's gone from wobbling a few feet to zipping down the street (paved, and she in shoes), weaving and turning and standing on the pedals. She has a helmet, bought the day after she took a spill and landed a huge bruise smack in the middle of her forehead, highly visible even through the bangs we're growing out that she won't keep pinned back. It's thrilling and exhilarating and not a little heart-wrenching to watch my daughter fly down the street, moving so quickly away from me. And overhead, the sky is blue.
Chasing the Phoenix
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