With the wind dancing through my shoulder length, tangly blonde hair, I felt like I could fly. Oh, the freedom I felt on hot summer afternoons in my tiny hometown, Carthage, Texas. Together, we raced down the neighborhood's black-top roads softened under the blazing sun. Carefully striking the perfect balance, I gracefully lifted my feet from her pedals and spread my legs wide - toes pointed like those of the prima ballerina spinning in my jewelry box. Then, in one fluid motion, I let go of the handlebars and held my arms out like the wings of a soaring bird floating along on the warm summer breeze as we ventured forth. She was my friend. She was my partner. She was my banana bike.
I remember well how she came to be mine. With my birthday only days away, my mother took me to the Western Auto Store on the corner of Panola and Shelby. There in the small, crowded, rubber tire scented store amongst the fan belt and spark plug displays was a small row of brand new, shiny bicycles. My heart raced as we entered the store. I felt like a princess entering a grand ballroom or a movie star walking onto a movie set. "I'm ready for my bicycle, Mr. Western Auto!" With my head lifted high with a regal "I Am A Paying Customer" air, in I floated. The men of Western Auto took notice when a lady with a 7 year old snaggle-toothed, blonde daughter entered the store. "What can we do for you, young lady?" said the approaching smiling salesman with his Brylcreem slick hair and Old Spice splashed cheeks.
At this point of my story, I feel compelled to take
a but a moment to pay homage to Brylcreem.
"Tell Mr. So-and-So why we're here, Carolyn!" my mother gently nudged me. "I'm gonna pick out my birthday bicycle," I grinned feeling like I had just announced exciting headline news. I could hear Walter Cronkite's deep voice booming, "Carolyn Kinzbach is selecting her birthday bike at the Carthage, Texas Western Auto today in preparation for the grand celebration of her 7th birthday which will rival that of Caroline Kennedy's! Sources tell us that she has her heart set on a pink, or perhaps, green banana bike with lovely handlebar grip streamers. And, that's the WAY it is on this 27th day of February 1964!" Interrupting the "Up to the Minute" broadcast, Mr. A-Little-Dab'll-Do-Ya announced that the bicycles were "Right this way!" I knew by heart where the bicycles were. I'd tagging along with my dad to Western Auto for yeeeeeears. While he examined tire treads, I wandered over to the small row of bicycles to caress their gleaming fenders and gently brush the multi-colored streamers flowing from the pristine white handlebar grips.
|This bike, minus the hand brakes, is very similar to mine.|
"What kind of bike are you wanting, Little Miss?" the saleman said waving his arm down the neat row of bikes tilting on their kickstands. "A banana bike with monkey handlebars!" I quickly replied grinning from ear to ear. "A banana bike?!" he exclaimed feigning surprise. "Well, let's see what we have here! I think we have the perfect birthday bike for you!"
From the row of small to large bikes, he rolled out a shiny blue model with a long, narrow banana seat crowned with gleaming chrome monkey handlebars tipped with a rainbow of glossy plastic streamers. "Does it come in pink or green?" I asked hopefully. "No, Ma'am. Just blue. Why don't you try riding it around the store to see how it feels?" Disappointed, I obediently straddled the bike and began to circle the aisles of auto parts on a wobbly test ride. The seat was comfortable. The monkey bars were elegant. The streamers floated daintily as I rode. As I made my way back to the bike aisle, I spied my mom holding out an item that sealed the deal - a pretty white plastic "wicker" bicycle basket with plastic flowers woven around the upper rim. The bicycle was mine.
Back in the days when children played outside with balls and sticks, a bicycle was a most prized possession. A kid's bicycle was his or her form of identity. Mothers could look down the block and locate a child's whereabouts with a quick glance. Little Suzie was at the Miller's house because her green Huffy with the Old Maid playing cards attached to the spokes with clothespins was parked in the Millers front yard. Bikes new to the neighborhood were met with appreciative with calls of "Hey, new bike! Neato" and "Ge-aaw! A banana bike!" As we pulled into the driveway, my dad met us smiling. "What a pretty bike!" he raved unloading it from the back of the El Camino. No sooner than its wheels had touched the driveway, I hopped onto the banana seat and began my own private neighborhood parade of one.
That bike took me far and wide on the streets of Carthage, Texas. Back then, a little girl could safely ride her bike from one end of the town to the other. The rule was this: Don't ride so far that you can't make it back home in time for supper. With a Mason jar of sugar-sweetened strawberry Koolaide tinkling with ice cubes and a wax paper wrapped Miracle Whip sandwich tucked into my wicker bicycle basket, I could just about make it to the Louisiana border and back. My favorite ride was the one I made with my mom and my big brother, Kirk, - she on an old Huffy Cruiser and he on a dashing red 12-speed English Racer - on warm evenings just as the mosquitos began flitting around looking for chubby little girl arms fit for a midsummer night's feast.
On these deliciously adventurous excursions, we rode way into the pineywoods along country roads. I can't tell you which direction or how far. The calculations of my short legs pedaling hard to keep up estimated the distance to be about 10 miles to our destination. Far, far from the flat streets of our neighborhood was a narrow tar farm-to-market road with a treacherously steep hill that dipped down deep like a roller coaster and headed up just as steeply as soon as a flying bike reached the bottom.
The three of us would perch upon our bikes at the top of that incline staring down into the mouth of the dragon. Then, slowly Mom would count, "One...two...three!" And, off we'd fly screaming "Geronimoooooo!" at the top of our lungs. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down until we were breathless from laughter. Then, in the gathering twilight, we would turn towards home where, more likely than not, a watermelon would be waiting in the aluminum dog washing tub filled with ice. We'd end the day with tousled hair, itchy mosquito-stabbed legs, and sticky watermelon juicy arms. Enjoying the dance of the fireflies. Pure, simple, sweet contentment. I loved to ride my bicycle. I loved to ride my bike.
You knew this was coming.