The first few days, we drove in our 1951 Chevrolet, and she pointed out the window to show me this and that landmark. Then one morning we walked. Down to the highway, watching the cars, and then across for another block. A right turn and fourteen blocks in a row, and by golly there was the school!
So it wasn’t long before I wanted a bicycle.
Some of the other boys had a bicycle. Linda Brown had a bicycle. I wanted a bicycle.
This year, one showed up at Christmas. There was only one problem. I couldn’t ride it.
I tried a few times. Fell over. Fell off. My mother tried to help me, to no avail. Fell over. Fell off.
Bicycle sat. Bummer.
Now about that time, my mother found a boyfriend named Pete. She was raising me alone, my father being long gone, and so in a way I was happy for her, even though it meant getting dressed up on Sundays and driving all the way to Bowie. Yes, Bowie is named after Jim Bowie, with the Bowie knife, that fought and died at the Alamo. And it’s way up the road from Henrietta. We had to drive for a long time, like a half an hour. Tedious it was.
His house sat beside a busy street, with a mulberry tree and a yellow dog to look at. His mother lived there, too. They had a television with Milton Berle and western movies and wrestling. My mother liked Milton Berle. I didn’t understand Milton Berle at all.
My mother was very happy to go and visit Pete. He didn’t generally know what to say to me, didn’t take much interest. I suppose he had other things to think about. I realize now that going to Bowie was better from my mother’s point of view, because if they disappeared from view for an hour, there were no Henrietta neighbors to start talking.
But now and then Pete visited us in Henrietta, too. And he saw the bicycle. “Do you ride it a lot?” Embarassed, I shook my head.
“I can’t ride it,” I said.
“Why not?” he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t know why I couldn’t ride it. Other boys could, but I couldn’t. “I just fall off,” I said.
He looked at me. “Well, that might not be so difficult,” he said, “Do you want to be able to ride it?”
“Sure!” I said.
So he promised that he’d show me, next visit.
The following week, he came to see us in the morning. As promised, he showed me a trick he’d once used to learn to ride. We went out front, to the sidewalk and Uncle Doc’s lawn.
The trick was to place the right-side pedal forward and high, in the 2 o’clock position, looking from the right. Then you hold the handle bars and place your right foot on that pedal. You stand on that pedal while throwing your left leg over the seat.
Your weight on that pedal makes the bike move forward, and as you know it’s easier to balance on the bicycle once it’s moving. Only later did I figure out that it’s because the front wheel is mounted at an angle, so that when the bike tilts to the right, the wheel tends to turn slightly to the right because of the angle, meaning that the bike tends to move underneath you, which is helpful.
Pete held the back tire upright for the first couple of times. I fell off a little, but within a half-dozen attempts, I didn’t fall off! Not right away, anyway.
Pete laughed and laughed. Although I’d begun with worry and trepidation, now I laughed, too.
Ha ha ha ha ha!