Sunday, July 05, 2020

Give it a Try

The end of the movie “Castaway” features the main actor, Tom Hanks, standing in the center of a four-
way intersection in a rural part of America. He is pondering his future which looks nothing like the one
he envisioned before being stranded on an island in the Pacific. I find myself in a similar place pondering
memories of the past, but I do not have four roads leading away from my intersection; instead, I have
dozens upon dozens of roads each leading to memories of camping trips in Rocky Mountain meadows,
fishing trips over Music Pass, spelunking in old caves in the Sangre De Cristo mountains, bicycle rides
through the Redwoods in the black of night, spearfishing expeditions for the dreaded white-nose
sturgeon, raging rivers at the edge of flood stage, accepting the challenge of swimming White Horse
rapids through its savage currents and unseen dangers hidden its churning, foaming roar, flashlight wars
and rowboat wars, rock-skipping contests, a porcupine and a bear and a dog with far more fight in him
than size, campfires and stars, the thundering crash of falling Redwood trees, wind storms and rain
storms, thunder and hail, flash floods and the sweet scent of rain-cleansed air… Where to begin? What
to say?

I think I will need to change the prompt slightly. This is “a” fond memory growing up. To begin with, this
will be a short event but full of the life of the family.

I have two older sisters. The one closest to my age was always, well, precocious. My oldest sister is what
we now call “special needs.” This is an odd little title intended to be more genial, but it is also much less
descriptive of the person’s real struggles. There is nothing defined except that the person with the title
is wrestling with some sort of life problem, but we, now in this enlightened age, don’t care enough
about the person to give them a label that is descriptive enough to be helpful. Inevitably, to be helpful
to the person, more questions must be asked with the lingering awkwardness as the person has to now
explain what use to be plain by the now much-maligned terms of the past, but I digress. Even more than
that, my oldest sister does not even play a part in this story. So, where was I?

Sometime in mid-1972, my next oldest sister, Rebecca, had received a new three-speed bicycle. This is
an odd invention to add some gears to a bike without actually adding gears to the bike. The entire
mechanism for the gears is encased inside the hub of the rear tire. There was a cable than ran from the
shifter – usually a twisting kind of contraption built into one of the handles – directly into the hub. When
the cable pulled on that hub mechanism, it would change gears allowing the rider to either go faster or
ride up a steep hill in a lower gear. The now ubiquitous 10, 15, 18, 21, 465 geared bicycles were just
beginning to show up in the consumer market. This three-speed was a transition between single speed
bicycles with coaster brakes and the now multi-geared bike with caliper brakes. Coaster brakes operated
through the rear hub of the bicycle. You merely had to “pedal backward” to stop the bike. Actually,
there was only a little bit of pedaling before the pedal stopped and you were actively braking. This was
standard on all bikes since the dawn of, well, my time. Apparently, this was standard for many, many
years prior to this, but with the advent of the three-speed hub, the brakes had to move to the handles.
Like modern multi-geared bicycles, pedaling backward does nothing on this new-fangled bike of my
sister than to fan the air.

My father was an absolutely amazing man. Gregarious and joy-filled, he made friends as easily as
nightingales sing. He was pleased as punch that he was able to give Rebecca this new-fangled bicycle.
She rode it to the top of Cadillac Ave to give it a try. Cadillac Ave was located in what was then a newer
subdivision of Colorado Springs. Our house was about half-way down the hill. Cadillac Ave was steep.

The street ended at the bottom with Constitution Blvd running left and right. Constitution was and is a
major traffic thoroughfare in the part of the city. The other side of Constitution brought you to a curb, a
ditch and railroad tracks – in that order. If you did not stop before the bottom of Cadillac, you,
therefore, had cars, curbs, a ditch and railroad tracks to contend with. None of these was in any way
appealing. As I said, Rebecca rode the bicycle up the hill and then rode it down the hill neatly braking
with the caliper brakes and coming to a smooth stop in our driveway. My father was intrigued with the
bike. He wanted to “give it a try.” So, he pushed it, as my memory recalls, up the hill for his ride on the
new bike.

The ride down appeared to be exhilarating and accelerating. Rebecca and I were wondering why he
wasn’t slowing down. Just trying to show off, I suppose, but the look of terror on his face and the fact
that he was frantically pedaling backward made us think otherwise. Without a single drop of
gregariousness and a total lack of joy, he shouted to us as he was racing past, “WHERE’S THE BRAKES?”
It is amazing how quickly the mind works when there is a rush of adrenalin in the system. No doubt, his
mind, as was ours, was contemplating the conclusion of the ride which would shortly bring cars, curb,
ditch and railroad tracks into his life at a time when he only wanted to give this new bike “a try.” In that
flash of a moment as he zipped past us, it dawned on both of us that he had never heard of caliper
brakes on the handles. Apparently, we had neglected this bit of the pre-flight check. It also occurred to
us that he should have realized that there could be no coaster brakes because the shifting mechanism
occupied the hub, but maybe he was so caught up in the new-fangledness of the bike that the
importance of this detail got lost in the excitement of the moment – which is ironic considering the
excitement coming in the next moment. We were both struck by the humor of the situation, umm, my
sister and I, that is. My dad was not interested in humor at that moment nor any moment involving that
bicycle until the day it left our home, but we fully grasped the humor. Shrieking past us, furiously
pedaling backward, face gaunt with the terror of car, curb, ditch and railroad tracks – “WHERE’S THE
BRAKES?” Well, we almost started laughing too soon. “They’re on the handles,” we yelled as the blur
that was father and bicycle disappeared on down the hill.

It was a few minutes later that he came pushing the bicycle back up the hill and into the driveway. We
had plenty of time to get the last of our giggles out before he arrived. This was probably for the better.
The bike appeared to be in good working order. It did not appear to have had any encounters with cars,
curb, ditch or railroad tracks. He gave the bike back to Rebecca, kind of staggered and teetered his way
back to the house, and, to the best of my recollection, never rode another bicycle for the rest of his life.

For Father's Day this year JaRissa purchased a subscription to Story Worth for Michael. Each week he receives a prompt and writes a story. It is sent back to JaRissa. He suggested I may want to post them in the family journal as well. This was one of my favorite stories to hear Dad G - Earl tell! 

No comments: