Friday, August 28, 2009

learning to ride

I learned to bike one September day when my cousin Dan was visiting from up the road. A year younger than me, he had biked down from his home on the dairy farm my aunt and uncle owned. My family didn’t have many bikes; maybe we didn’t have any. Bikes were luxuries tough to attain for a family with 10 children to feed and clothe. There were no hand-me-down bicycles for me. So, although I was just starting third grade, I had never even been on a bike.

When Dan offered to show me how to ride, I was enthusiastic. Never mind that it was a gravel driveway with not much room to ride before entering the gravel road where I would have to either turn right to go down hill or left to climb up just a bit more to the crest of the hill. I didn’t think that far ahead, nor did I make it out of the driveway before the bike tires washed out from underneath me and I landed with my left knee pounded hard into the dry, dusty gravel.

Blood flowed down my leg. I don’t know if I made it into the house. Maybe someone else relayed the message to Mom who was inside and would need to drop whatever she was doing to take me to the emergency room for stitches. The car ride to a hospital about 10 miles away would have taken us past the gravel pit, past the round barn and across the railroad tracks that were right next to the hospital. One year those tracks would carry the late-night train that slammed into Mom’s car where it sat stalled on the tracks, door left open as she ran for safety moments before the impact. Not how she anticipated ending her shift at the hospital.

I asked Doctor Strong if I could watch as he worked on my knee. First the injection to numb the throbbing that had started. Then I remember sitting up on my elbows as the needle dove into my skin and out the other side, the sutures tied in little spider-leg looking black knots on my torn skin.

My memory tells me that I wore a dress to school that Monday and walked up the stairs, taking one step at a time, with one unbending, bandaged knee to the third-grade classroom. In a way I was proud of my injury. This was what I had done. I rode a bike! It was an accomplishment and I wanted to be the center of attention, as I had been on the table in the emergency room that weekend.

I don’t remember the next time I rode a bike, but even after that short, less than 50 yard-long ride, I knew how to ride and I would never, despite gaps of years, forget how.

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