Monthly Archives: November 2011

Rosebud, the bicycle

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Ross Pro Gran Tour.jpgCharles Foster Kane couldn’t reclaim his Rosebud. Until a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t have told you my Rosebud’s name. I remember every bicycle I ever had . . . except for my first serious 10-speed, which somehow completely slipped my mind. I remember my very first bicycle, a red Columbia that cost $48 plus tax at Duane’s Toyland when I was in fourth grade, and which a local miscreant decided would be fun to steal from our back porch and smash into pieces in the schoolyard. On a school day. When he was supposed to have been in school.  (By the way, still waiting for the promised restitution, you shit-heel.)

It was some time before we scared up the money for a replacement, which was a wildly cool orange Columbia with built-in headlights that looked like a streamlined gas tank, cool chromed fenders and a rear rack. Like its pummeled predecessor, it was a single speed with a coaster brake. By then other kids in the neighborhood were getting coveted “English bikes,” internally geared three-speeds with thumb-lever shifters and handbrakes that occasionally I’d get the treat of riding. My family wasn’t in a position to upgrade, so it was several years of whining before I was able to finally convince my parents that I was actually facing complete ostracization because of my lack of a ten-speed, which by the time I was 14 had become the gold standard of personal transportation. Two rings in front, five gears in the back, shift levers on the down tube or the handlebar stem; we all had to have one. Once the ten-speed took over the culture, the only other bike cool enough to hang was the Schwinn Sting-Ray. My first one was a very cheap bike called an Iverson, which I believe was a Kmart special. Cheap, cheap, cheap, and its terrible ride didn’t quell my whining for long. I think it was only a couple of years before I was able to convince my parents that I needed a better bike, and I can only imagine the sales job I must have done, because if it had both wheels it sure would have been hard to convince my parents that it wasn’t good enough

But I prevailed, and I got a new bike. From a bike store (Plane Boys), not a toy store. And it was on this bike, with its gum-walled 27″ tires, its cheap Suntour derailleur, Dia-Compe center-pull brakes and that outrageously angled fork, that I learned everything I know about bikes. I learned to really ride, to dismantle axles and replace ball bearings, and how to take a tuning fork to a rim to true it. I rode it for three or four years, all over the place, nearly every day. I rode it into the hills of Glenville, through the streets of Schenectady, out into the horse pasture that used to be Clifton Park, and did it all in sneakers and cut-offs (and in fact my range was quite limited by wet feet and wedgies). This bike took me everywhere and taught me an awful lot. Nearly every meaningful conversation I had with my friends, those kinds of friends you only have when you’re 15, I had while describing a slow circle around an intersection under a street light, atop my trusty bicycle.

I took my faithful machine to college with me, where it was stolen within the first couple of weeks. Despite all the memories and the trauma, somehow I have not, for years, been able to recall the name of the bike. I can remember every other bike I’ve ever owned, where I was when I heard songs that I absolutely hate, where my pet turtles are buried . . . but not for my life could I remember the name of that bike.

And then, thanks to the magical Internet,  it comes rushing back to me. Some vintage bike blog mentioned the brand, which was Ross, and the light went off, and with a couple of clicks, there it was. The very bike. Absolutely in every way precisely the same bike. The Ross Professional Gran Tour. And honestly, seeing that picture, I was flooded with memories, touched in a way I could never have expected. Strong memories of sitting on the front sidewalk, my tiny Clear Creek Bike Book propped open with a rock, learning how to tear down a bottom bracket (with a chipped screwdriver and another rock as my available tools), of packing lunch in a knapsack and riding up into the Glenville hills, of competing with the other guys to see who could get across the village the fastest, or, sometimes, the slowest.

So there it is. My Rosebud. My Rossbud.

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Things I’m missing just a little bit

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A long time ago, I dreamed of three little girls, dressed
like Madeline, swarming out of the house. 
There would have been three but there were two, and that was good, too. It
seems like the promise of little girls is a promise that is forever but in
reality the colorful plastic toys and endless readings of “Frog and Toad” pass
quickly, so very quickly, and the next thing you know they’re getting
scholarships and going off to learn more than you could ever have imagined
knowing.  And so there are things that
won’t happen again, like little girls making snow forts, though I suspect the
older one will always eat snow off her mittens, and there will always be hot
chocolate to spill. There will be regrets within my control, and without my
control. I could have taken them tobogganing more often, but I couldn’t bring
them up in the world of freedom of my childhood. They learned to swim and dance and play
music, to question everything (everything!) and to be bold and strong. This is
good.

But there are some things I miss. I miss helping them get
the second mitten on and tucking hair inside their balaclava. I miss the dark
winter nights of the last couple of years, when it was just me and one of the
girls, having a punk meal of leftovers or freezer meat at the island in the
kitchen just in time to leave for dance. I miss having time to bake cookies in
the afternoon, and surprising Hannah with her favorite macaroni and cheese. (So
when she came home a couple of weeks ago it was a joy to make waffles again.)

On the other hand, I come home to amazing hugs and piano
playing. I get to watch Rebekah’s mind expand with high school the way her
sister’s did, to watch her fill with passion and commitment.  And she gets to teach me about Doctor Who. So
it’s not all over yet.