Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Memory Lane... the back alley

I clearly remember the day I learned to ride a two-wheeler.  There are not a lot of childhood memories that stick out in my mind, but this one seems to establish itself as a rite of passage from being a "little-kid" to being more grown up, just like my brother.

I grew up as a side-kick to my older bother, as a member of the "perfect" family (meaning there was 'one of each').  Not only was I the only girl, but I was the youngest, and if I remember correctly, I had the ability to get myself out of trouble a lot more easily than my brother did!  However, that didn't mean I was a sissy.  First of all, my mom was not into tea parties and beauty pageants and instead favored being strong and sensible.  Her hobbies were nature and fitness and she portrayed a model of  practical and capable woman for me as I grew up.  The other side of the coin, was the fact that if I wanted someone to play with, I would have to go along with my brother's plans and keep up with him.  He wasn't about to slow down and play with dolls (not that I owned very many). 

Additionally, we didn't have a ton of extra money as a family - it was the early 80's and my parents were Easterners (from Ontario), fleeing the recession, hoping to make a new start in oil-rich Alberta.  So, even though I was a girl, I ended up with many hand-me-downs from my older brother.  I remember in particular, a pair of green-jean overalls, and a red and white striped t-shirt that I used to wear.  I loved that outfit for some reason, and I can remember with clarity the way the seam of the overall bib strained across my stomach when I began to outgrow it!  (Part of the ill-fit was due to the fact that I wasn't the same string-bean type of physique as my brother so it didn't just get short in the legs, but most definitely grew tight in the tummy!) 

So maybe you can take a trip back in time with me... as you picture a little 5 year old girl with long brown pony-tails, scruffy overalls and bare feet. My brother and I spent our summers in bare feet - I don't think sandals were as cheap or readily available as today, and by summer-time, the former years' school shoes were often feeling tight.  We used to toughen up the soles of our feet, competing by racing down the gravel back alley bare-footed, to show how tough we were.  Sure enough, by the middle of summer, our feet were insulated with thick soles and we thought nothing of charging out onto the sizzling hot concrete or chasing each other out on the rocky back alley!

Back to that memorable day.  My brother and I were hanging out in the alley behind our house, and I was growing tired of watching him race back and forth on his two wheeler.   This was way back in the days where helmets were unheard of, and kids raced around their neighborhoods like wild animals - only to come indoors at mealtimes.  Along those lines of "safety-consciousness", my brother would give me the occasional ride on his handlebars - but even that thrill was wearing off!  So I convinced him to let me try to ride his bike.  At first he opposed me, coming up with a variety of excuses, including the fact that I wasn't anywhere near big enough.  It was true, of course, and I could barely touch the tip of my big toes to the ground when I was seated on the bicycle.  But somehow, in the manner of cute lil' sisters worldwide, I convinced him to help me. 

My heart was pounding, and I make him promise me that he would not let go of the back of the bike.  I perched on the seat, feeling quite wobbly, held the over-sized handlebars and began to peddle.  Weaving back and forth, my brother calmly walked behind, holding and steadying the bike.  The sun was beating down on the dark brown hair on the crown of my head and a trickle of sweat made a clean path through the dust on my forehead, down my eyebrow and into the corner of my eye.  The stinging sensation made me immediately remove my hand from the grip of the handlebar and I swiped at my eye with the back of my hand, causing the bike to careen wildly and nearly tip over.  Jeff glared at me and said something like:  "You can't expect to ride if you can't balance, dummy!"

I stuck out my chin with angry determination and said "I know I can do it!"  Then I pleaded with him:  "Just help me some more!" 

We travelled up and down the alley for the next little while, and I found my balance and became more steady and began to pick up speed.  Still, I would continually look back with a hurried glance, and a plea that my brother would not let go of the bike.   Gradually, I grew more confident and began to enjoy the feeling of flight, with the wind pushing tendrils of hair back away from my cheeks.  I grinned and pumped steadily with my strong little legs, and with a quick glance back noticed that Jeff was way at the other end of the alley!  My heart lurched and I felt the bike swerve and shudder slightly until I regained my balance and choked back my fear.

I was doing it!  I was riding a two-wheeler!  I felt so triumphant and accomplished!

Somehow I managed to steer myself in a rather large circle and head back towards a grassy patch behind the fence of our back yard.  With a lurch and thudding halt, I crash-landed myself, falling off the bike sideways; tangled up in the crossbar, yet unhurt.  My brother came running over and I exclaimed "I knew I could do it!"

"Ya, ya" he said, condescendingly.  "But now it's my turn to use MY bike!" he argued, as he grabbed it from the heap I had landed in, swiftly jumped on, and rode down the alley.

I settled back against the rough, sun-bleached wooden fence planks and smiled to myself.  I was on a new level now... on par with my big brother. 

With a sudden burst of excitement, I happily jumped up and chased after him, down the alley, then yelled: "Wanna play cops and robbers again?"

No comments: