The three-speed green bicycle had both tires flat. I moved it away from the garage wall. A rusted kickstand scraped as I forced airless rubber tires to turn. I squeezed the handbrakes.
Years ago, my daughter whizzed from the garage, down the circular driveway, and pedaled along the New York State Barge Canal park just a mile away. She carried books in metal newsboy baskets that added weight to the bicycle’s rear tire. Her return always had bullrushes, or wildflowers, or even long-stemmed green weeds as a gift for me. I’d take these floral clumps and carefully place them in a crystal vase which I first filled with water stained by squirting a drop of food coloring inside. If a flower was a white lacy one, the food coloring traveled up the stem and eventually tinted the petals.
Ten-speeds and lightweight frames were “in” but she always preferred to be different. This bike was sturdy, had fewer parts needing attention, and provided transportation. I’d watch her thin blonde hair take on fullness as she pushed against air; it waved behind her as a flag. Peds socks, with fluffy pom-poms on each heel, covered her feet above the canvas sneaker.
I imagined her humming, talking to birds or trees, reciting poetry aloud as she pumped to whatever was a favorite spot to read without being interrupted to do a household chore. Did she daydream as boats, on Lock #32, were caged below water level? Did she wave to people waiting for the Lock to let them exit? Did she like the freedom her spoked wheels brought?
What were her secret yearnings, fears?
My balloon-tired bicycle gave me independence. Growing up on the North Shore of Long Island, before exurbia or expressways, I pedaled to a swamp now called Kennedy Airport. My favorite place, however, was along Long Island Sound as I had to walk the bike up a flight of stairs, walk on a bridge atop the Cross Island roadway, then bump the bike down a full flight of stairs until I reached the path parallel to the road. Water lined one side; cars on concrete traveled the other; my bicycle moved quite protected in-between. My mother only knew I was “out”, and “out” was anywhere I had the endurance to go. In order to brake, I had to back-pedal and I felt that only I, alone, knew how much pressure to apply when going downhill on the hilly streets of the North Shore.
With a new camera that took tiny 2 ½” x 2 ½” snapshots, I caught a patrol boat in waters off Bayside, and if I rode in the opposite direction I took black and whites of tiny La Guardia Airport adjacent to Flushing Bay.
What did my daughter decide to capture and keep when her Kodak was toted? Did ducks waddle on the narrow canal? Did she, too, merely go “out” wherever her endurance took her?
Years, from childhood home, earning two university degrees, then marriage and having children, have accumulated. The transportation of independence rusted, and silvery rims that topped each tire plus the wrapped cords of the hand brakes turned tacky from deterioration. This last tangible proof of childhood needed no permission to be given away, yet I dialed all the phone-number digits, heard my daughter’s “hello” and saw, in my mind, clumps of hand-picked flowers stuffed in steel bicycle baskets. In the background, my grandson was uttering, to her, “mama.”
‘Mama’ is Mom to my daughter’s grown children, one a physician, the other with an honors bachelor’s degree. In her garage, 500 miles from here, are two bicycles that once meant independence for her offspring. What might she see when the time comes to donate such to charity? What did these children bring to her after their own personal adventures on two wheels? Does she still see clumps of wildflowers that she brought me?
An earlier version of this work was originally published in Gannett News.
Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/photos/memorabilia are in major museums, including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.