The joy and awe of growing up has got to be the first time we attempt something new or the first time we actually are successful at that attempt.
For instance, when I was seven and one-half, we lived in Miami, Florida. We didn’t have bicycles, most likely because of money, not to mention that neither Mary or I had ever ridden a one. We did however have friends that had this mode of transportation. They would soar past us when we were outside playing with the neighborhood children. I recall looking wistful and wishing I knew the art of riding this two wheeled machine.
One day the opportunity presented itself by way of my friend Billy. He and his family lived down the lane and around the curve. I remember in the evenings his sister walking up and down the road calling out, “B-I-L, … B-I-L.” She had a sing-song tone for each of the letters. This alerted the rest of us that dinner time was fast approaching.
One day, Billy rode up and headed straight for me. “Hey cutey.” he addressed me arrogantly, “Want me to teach you how to ride a bike?” He winked as he asked and smiled such a wide boyish grin, that my little unsuspecting heart did a leap. Jumping up to stand eagerly beside him, I looked up into his brown eyes and nodding my head up and down, I replied, “Yes!”
He told me to climb onto the back fender and to be sure to hold on to his waist. “Be certain to keep your legs out a little, so you don’t let the spokes catch your toes. As usual, I was barefooted and scrawny and sweaty from playing in the hot sunshine. My skin was a toasty golden brown and my neck usually sported a bit of prickly heat. Pink spots from becoming too hot from all of the Florida humidity.
I could not believe my good fortune. Billy was a grade ahead of me and therefore a sort of romantic hero. In the past he had been a bit stand-offish with me and my friends maybe because we were younger. But today, the fates had smiled down on me.
Sitting behind him, I positioned myself as comfortably as I was able on the hard fender. Thankfully it wasn’t one of the newer and thinner models. Weighing only 42 pounds and being wispy I fit on the back pretty well. I extended my legs away from the wheels, placed my arms round his waist and off we went. This was my first time on a bike and it was so much fun that I laughed for the sheer joy of the situation. Feeling the delightful wind the speed of the bicycle brought, my flushed cheeks and damp hair cooled off pretty quickly.
We seemed to fly past the houses and when we reached the end of the street, he masterfully turned the bike around to head back the way we had come. Billy had now risen to the highest position possible, up the hero pole. Not only had he deemed to pay attention to me, he was giving me a thrill of a lifetime.
We repeated this for the next half hour. Billy told me I needed to get used to feeling the bike go over dents in the road, travel over gravel, and understand my body’s need for balance. In fact he stressed the importance of balance and then we rode around the block and then a few blocks away. He explained that we would ride over different terrains and he would start and stop the bicycle, placing his feet down onto the ground, all the while keeping the two of us perfectly balanced atop the seat and fender. Start. Stop. I was beginning to appreciate all of the new points he was teaching me.
We returned home and I slid off the back. Tomorrow we would try it again, until I felt really comfortable and was ready to try it alone. I politely thanked him and ran to my house with the exciting news. Mary had seen us and now she too wanted to learn. This day was a first.
The next day dawned, and not a minute too soon, as I had lain awake many hours thinking of the experience Billy had afforded me. Today, I would get to do it all over again. True to his word, Billy appeared after lunch and we practiced. Now the other children wanted a try and Billy patiently took every one of them around the block and told them the same things he had shared with me, only the day before. The neighborhood took on happy children sounds and the atmosphere was filled with our glee.
Billy let me sit on the seat of his bike, but I was so tiny, I was unable to reach the ground, even with my little toes pointed downward. Seeing this he advised me to sit on the back fender and stretch to reach the handlebars. Success. I could do this and my feet could touch the ground. Next he got me to place my feet on the peddles. He guided my weight and helped me to balance myself. This took many attempts but Billy was very patient. The other children watched.
After a few days, I could be seen riding his bike sitting on his back fender and peddling round in small circles. This way if it looked as if I might turn over my feet would be placed flat on the ground and keep me and the bike upright.
My friend Marcie had a smaller bicycle, which had training wheels on it. She allowed me to use it and practice balancing. One day her dad removed the training wheels and magically, I was riding a two-wheeler without assistance from anyone. Eureka!
Billy and I rode for hours and claimed a summer friendship. We became inseparable for about a month or two. For my eighth birthday I received a beautiful blue bike. We rode side by side that summer, until school time was once again upon us and then we parted. We attended different schools but would always remember this experience and all of the fun we had exploring our neighborhood. Thanks Billy.