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Thursday, June 9, 2011
I Ride My Bike, I Roller Skate, Don't Drive No Car
That was a silly song popular the summer before I entered 7th grade. (And now it’s stuck in my head all day. Sorry if it happens to you too!) It wasn’t a particularly favorite song of mine, but the lyrics and tune were quite catchy. What I did like about it was that it made riding a bike pretty cool, and the “person” in the song was probably about the same age as we were that hot summer of 1970. We rode our bikes everywhere. And like the song says, we didn’t go too fast, but we went pretty far. All over Statham, to be exact. The dirt sidewalks laden with centuries-old tree roots were a favorite obstacle course. We’d bounce along, expertly avoiding the roots, or if we felt really brave, we would drive over them, bouncing around like popcorn kernels in a pan of hot oil. The cemetery behind the Baptist Church had one fancy plot that was paved into the shape of an oval, with a cross-like shape inside. We could have joined a circus act, so precise were our patterns and dare-devilishness on this “track”. (Of note, no one was buried there at the time. It would have been disrespectful [and super creepy] to ride there if there had been.) At that time, the streets in Statham were paved, but not with asphalt. I don’t know what it was called, but it was an irregular, gravel-type material, with uneven rocks. I remember this vividly, because the tips of my toes were always getting scraped, and sometimes I’d lose chunks of my big toes to the offending street surface. (Shoes? I never wore shoes in the summertime unless I was going exploring in the woods!!) We knew who lived in every house up and down Broad Street, and even the names of their pets. We’d go as far east as just beyond Miss Nobie’s house, where Broad Street officially ended for us. Our travels west would take us as far as my house. We didn’t often venture further than that, because of the monster hill just beyond my house. And besides, there wasn’t much of interest past that point anyway, just some cows and chicken houses. No need in huffing and puffing up that hill anyway. So back and forth we’d go, up and down the street. Down a few side streets sometimes, but never in the alleys. Everyone knows that bad things happen in the alleyways, and we pretty much stayed clear of those.
Every now and then, we’d spot some cute boys standing out by their cars along the street. We’d try to be so cool and ride our bikes by them with great sophistication, and pretend that they looked at us with the same googly-eyes with which we looked at them. If perchance they actually DID look at us, or catch us looking at them, we’d nearly faint and almost fall off our bikes. (How funny is it that decades later, I have ended up married to one of those cute boys!!)
At some point in our day, we would ride over and visit Mr. Whitlock, owner of “the store” in Statham. We spent many of our pennies and nickels in the candy aisle of his establishment. Banana “Kits” was my favorite candy. The peanut butter ones were pretty good too. He knew us all by name, and better than that, he knew our moms and dads by name too. He had a bubble gum machine with a hand-lettered sign that said “REAL Cigarette Lighters”. Now, none of us smoked cigarettes, but we sure wanted to get us one of those REAL cigarette lighters!! But alas, it was not to be. And to this day, I never heard of anyone who ever got one.
I didn’t learn to ride a bike as early as most kids do. My friends were a year or so ahead of me in that regard. I wanted to do it so badly, but was deathly afraid of crashing. My cousins Sharon and Jeff used to come down every summer for two weeks. The summer before I learned to ride, they brought their bikes. I was torn. I wanted to try. They begged me to try. But I was just too chicken. I was jealous because they would ride all around the yard, and like a pitiful little puppy, I would run along behind them, pretending I was having as much fun as they were. Inside I was heartbroken, and angry at myself for being too afraid to try. For some reason that year, Sharon left her bike at Mama Nay’s house when she returned home to the big city. I would go outside and stare at the bike, lift up the kickstand and walk along beside it, pretending that I could ride. On the rare occasion that a car would come down the road, I made sure that I was walking along beside the bike, happy to think that whoever was in the car would look at me and think “Wow! That girl can ride a bike!” How sad. As vividly as I remember all the bike rides, I’m a little cloudy on the day that I actually did it for the first time. I do remember it was an ugly, old-fashioned, blue bike. It was my dad who ran along behind me, holding onto the back of the bike to keep me from falling, and then finally let go when it seemed like I had the hang of it. I remember thinking that it wasn’t so hard after all. I was so proud! A rite of passage never felt so good. It wasn’t long before I was coasting down Mulberry Street saying “Look, Ma, no hands!!” And then I’d hit one of those stupid rocks, and go tumbling into the ditch. Oh yes, there were many crashes on the bike, and many sudden stops resulting in bruises in places that should never be bruised. Once as I was coasting down the street with no hands, I looked at my handlebars and there sat a praying mantis. Perhaps he was praying for my safety, but it had the opposite effect. Somehow I jumped off the bike while it was in motion, screaming at the top of my lungs. My poor mom thought I was badly injured. Once she was sure I was okay, she threatened to whoop me good for scaring her half to death. Moms are prone to do that, you know.
I remember that I loved riding the bike, but I hated the bike. It was so old-fogey. All my friends were riding the newfangled “banana bikes” with the sleek seats and high-rise handlebars. And I’m still on Old Blue with the wire basket and battery-operated headlight. (Very similar to the picture above, only with an ugly headlight jutting out about 6" on the front looking for all the world like something off the Batmobile.) I longed for a new bike with all my heart. One Sunday afternoon, my brother and I spent the afternoon with Mama Nay and Daddy Bill while Mom and Dad went out riding around. When they returned, they called us out to the car, and made a big production of opening up the trunk to reveal brand new bikes for both of us!!! I almost had a heart attack right on the spot!! I got my snazzy new banana bike with the white wicker basket on front (and no stupid battery-operated headlight). It was hot pink, had a white seat with flowers on it. AND it had pom-poms on the high-rise handlebars. I was speechless. I couldn’t believe that we both had new bikes. I couldn’t wait to show it off to my friends. I don’t expect a teenager with a brand new car could have been more excited than I was with my new bike!!
I would love to know how many miles we logged on the streets of our little town. We all wore out two or three bikes over the years, and would celebrate whenever someone got a new one. We would decorate the wheels with brightly-colored beads that would slide up and down the spokes with every turn of the wheel. Sometimes we’d take playing cards and fasten them on the fork with clothespins. We sounded like a pack of Harleys cruising up and down Broad Street.
Back in those days, the school at Statham went 1st through 8th grade. We always had two classes for each grade. We stayed in the same room all day, and had the same teacher all day. Always female. But as we prepared to enter the 7th grade, we were excited to learn that we would have different teachers throughout the day, and some of them would be MEN!! We were really moving up in the world!! A few weeks before school started, Bobbie Jean and I rode our bikes down to the school house. We went inside to check out the classrooms, and see if we could scope out the new teachers. We went into one of the converted-auditorium classrooms, where we met Mr. Austin. We learned that we would be in his homeroom. He teased us about riding our bikes, and told us we reminded him of the I-Ride-My-Bike,-I-Roller-Skate,-Don’t-Drive-No-Car song. We dutifully informed him that bikes were the preferred mode of transportation for upcoming 7th graders, and we were proud of it. But after that, the bike song was kind of our theme song.
What a different world we live in today. I cherish my memories of growing up in Statham, and bike riding is one of my favorites. Every trip down Bike Memory Lane always takes me to that 7th grade classroom, meeting my first male teacher, and I hear that silly song again.
You don’t see much of that any more, even in small towns like ours. Cars travel much too fast, and parents are not willing to let their kids ride bikes outside the safety of their yards at home. It was a simpler time, when we burned more calories than we consumed. Vitamin D deficiency was unheard of back then, as we spent every summer day that wasn’t raining playing outside. We used our imaginations to entertain us, not electronic gadgets. We helped our parents in the yard and in the garden, we picked up twigs to start a fire for the charcoal grill. We cleaned our rooms (well, sometimes…), and took out the garbage. We played in the sandbox with our siblings. We swam at the pool. We played outside in the yard with hula hoops, and built forts in the woods.
But most of all, we rode our bikes.