Wednesday, April 10, 2013
A to Z: History
In a small town in northeast Montana, located squarely on a reservation, I spent my childhood years between six and eight. I'm guessing I was seven at the time -- too big for my little bike, and too small for my mom's -- but I loved to ride.
The day I discovered I could reach the pedals on my mother's bicycle while sitting on the seat, marked the day I was "grown up" -- nevermind that I couldn't reach the ground from that position. I couldn't tell you whether or not I had her permission, but it sort of seems that I did, so I took off on a cruise around the block encircling the Northside Elementary School, which lay just across the street from the church my dad pastored.
The block in question was situated on a hill, which was steep enough to have to stand up on the pedals to get enough push, but not steep enough to give up and walk the bike to the top. The ride on the way back down was fast enough to give a little thrill, but not so fast I'd go flying out of control as long as I rode the brakes at the appropriate times -- I was never much of a daredevil.
I must have made the round trip three or four times, gaining confidence with each passing lap. Of course, confidence leads to over-confidence, and over-confidence leads to carelessness -- and in a child riding a bicycle far too big for her frame, that is a dangerous formula.
My last time around, on the down hill stretch, I laid off the brake. I was grown up after all, and I could handle a little more speed. I sat back and coasted, gaining momentum with every revolution of the wheel, and soon I was going too fast -- the rush of excitement turned to panic. My frantic efforts to brake my speed were ineffectual -- my mother's bike had only hand brakes, and my hands were the small and weak hands of a seven-year-old child. The rushing air slapped my face, taking my breath away and making a scream impossible.
As the bicycle and I flew down the hill out of control, the church came rushing to meet me. I would be at the glass entry doors any second, but the building itself was my only hope to stop the mad cascade to the bottom of the hill and into the busy highway below.
Somehow I managed to aim for the church, and as the tires leapt the ramped curb, I turned the wheel ever so slightly and slammed full force into the rock wall, narrowly missing going through the glass doors. My inertia sent me flailing forward, but the slanted bar on the bike broke my momentum, and I came crashing down on my pelvic bone. The seat behind me dug into my back as I ricocheted off the bar and slid down to the ground.
The front wheel was badly bent, and the bicycle was no longer usable after that day, but my mom didn't yell at me. She bandaged my wounded back and my wounded pride while she comforted me on the couch until my whimpering subsided.
To this day the scar on my back can bear witness to exactly how high the bicycle seat reached when I stood my full height from the ground, the day I rode my mother's bike.