Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Short Appreciation Of My Grandmother

About twenty years ago, my parents bought me my first bike, an old used one of no particular make or model that may still be hanging around somewhere in the barn at my childhood home. It was an exciting moment for the nine-year-old me - I had a BIKE! I could go ANYWHERE! The world was my oyster!

There were only two problems: who was going to teach me to ride, and where? My parents both worked and my two older siblings were high school students who didn't have a lot of interest in spending more time than necessary with their little brother. And besides, our driveway was short, too sloped for a novice rider, and equipped with a trio of natural hazards should I fail to apply the brakes in time: to the left, rose bushes; to the right, lilac bushes; in the middle, road.

This is where my grandmother enters the picture. Mum-Mum and Pa-Pa lived less than a quarter mile down the street, in a big house with a big, flat driveway. The road was a safe distance away, the only nearby obstacles an old car that belonged to my uncle and a huge oak tree that would have required some exceptional effort if I wished to run into it. Mum-Mum watched my sister and I after school two days a week, and on those days, we would go outside and practice.

One day she was holding onto the back of the bike while I tried desperately to gain my balance. I wobbled this way and that, finally losing control and sending the bike crashing down beneath me. I managed to stay on my feet somehow, but Mum-Mum - and this image is burned into my brain - was knocked off balance. She fell over, did a barrel roll, and sprang to her feet, laughing like a school girl.

She was 67 years old.

I eventually learned to ride a bike*. Now, if only I can figure out how to bounce back to my feet and laugh when life knocks me down, I'll be fine.

*...and almost died once when I saw my cousin cross the street on foot and assumed it was safe for me to do the same, without looking, not realizing that she had crossed just in front of an oncoming car. I don't know who was more scared when it was all over - me or the driver who almost hit me. I do know that later that day, my brother took me for a long ride down by the beach and made me practice turning to check for cars until my neck was stiff.