A Ride Down Memory Lane

A Ride Down Memory Lane

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

A Ride Down Memory Lane

Life is like riding a bicycle—
in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.
~Albert Einstein

It was a bright sunny day. I was enjoying a nice cold Coca-Cola and lying in my backyard hammock when I heard children shouting and quarrelling in the back alley. I turned my attention to the conversation between two little girls for only a second before I figured out what they were arguing about.

“Quick, get back on the bike, you almost had it that time,” said the older girl.

“I can’t do it, let me put the training wheels back on,” said the younger of the two, whose legs were covered with scrapes and Band-Aids.

“No, this is my bike, and I don’t want to drive around with training wheels all the time because you think you can’t ride without them.”

I chuckled at the innocence of the two girls, sisters who lived across the alley from me. I readjusted my ball cap over my face and continued to rest my eyes. I tried to get back to the state of total relaxation I was in before it was interrupted, but their conversation took me back to the memories I had the day I learned how to ride a bike. I was about four years old.

“Christopher,” my mother called from the family room doorway, leaning against it with a tea towel thrown over her shoulder. She had snuck up on me as I was playing with my toy cars on the carpet. Pushing the cars around, I drove to and from the imaginary neighbors, stopping over in the field to say hello to my father. I had been playing all morning with my little brother but he had tuckered himself out and was napping on his back, arms stretched away from his body, his head to the side with drool coming from his little face, his fat little belly protruded from underneath his shirt.

“Yah,” I said when I briefly turned my head toward my mother then back toward the car that was exiting the imaginary field.

“Come, let’s go outside,” she said. “It’s a nice day out today and I’m finished with my work.”

At that moment, I really wasn’t interested, thinking she would want me to help her in the garden or something like that, so I continued playing and asked, “What are we going to do?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she paused. I looked up at her and a smile came over her face. “I thought you could learn how to ride that bike today.”

I jumped up in joy as a rush of excitement spread through my body. I ran through the house as fast as I could, out the door and onto the deck. I grabbed my muddy rubber boots from beside the door and dove out into the sun, grabbing my sister’s little purple bike with white tires. My mother came out of the house behind me, “Take the bike over to the garage.”

I was wound up, so I ran the bike toward the garage. The driveway in the farmyard was slanted slightly; we were going to use it for a starting hill. I jumped on the bike and waited for my mother’s instruction.

“Okay, Christopher, when we start, I’m going to hold on to the bike and you pedal as fast as you can and don’t stop.”

“Don’t let go,” I warned.

She placed a hand on the handlebars and the other on the back of my seat, “I won’t,” she assured. “Okay. Ready?”

I nodded and stared straight ahead; ready to take off like a gust of wind.

“Go!” she shouted. I started pedaling fast as the bike started to move down the small hill, picking up speed. My mom was running alongside me with both hands on the bike like she promised; I had all the faith in the world when I was with her that nothing bad would happen. She started to tire. Out of breath, she hollered, “Good job, but stop the bike and we’ll try again.”

We did the exact same thing four or five more times. Each time we both gained more confidence in my abilities. The next couple of times, Mom took her hand off the handlebars, giving me more of a taste to explore balance on my own. When it looked as if the bike was wobbling too much, she guided me back to safety.

“Okay, now this time, I’m going to let go of the bike,” she warned.

“No! Don’t let go!” I pleaded. “I’m not ready yet.”

“Okay, I won’t let go this time.”

I started out again just like the times before. I was pedaling furiously as Mom sprinted to keep up, holding the seat in one hand, pumping her other arm in sync with her legs, her voice always making its way to my ear, constantly reassuring and encouraging, “Good job, keep going. Good job. I’m letting go now.”

“Don’t let go!” I shouted in fear. “I’m not ready, don’t let go. Don’t let go!”

“Fine. I won’t,” she lied. “Keep going, faster, faster, you’re doing so well.”

Her voice became quieter and quieter. Then I realized what she had done and became angry. “You let go!”

“Keep going; you’re doing it all by yourself. Good job!” she shouted. My anger suddenly turned to joy at the realization that I was riding a bike for the first time.

I flew down the driveway toward the gravel road. My old tired dog woke from his afternoon nap on the deck and came up to run beside me, barking as though he was applauding me as the wind blew through my hair. The smile on my face was a mile wide as I slowly turned the wheel and made a large turn back toward my mom. I rode the shiny purple bike up beside her and came to a wobbly stop and was greeted with hugs and kisses, and a good lick on the cheek from my loyal dog.

A car in the alley woke me from my daydream. I had a feeling I had only reflected for a matter of seconds. I smiled; I hadn’t thought about that for a really long time. Mom passed away later that winter, and my few memories of her had faded away like footsteps in the sand. I try as hard as I can to never forget our times together. My brothers and sister and I gather during the holidays and share our memories of her to help us to never forget. The stories have been getting old and repetitive lately but this one is a new one; I have never told this memory. I have never remembered it before now. It is a memory as simple as learning how to ride a bike, yet cherished more than words can describe.

I rose from the hammock, reached down into my cooler, and pulled out a couple of cans of pop. I walked across the lawn toward the back alley where I could still hear the girls arguing over the training wheels. I offered them a drink to quench their thirst in the hot summer sun. Their eyes lit up as they gladly accepted my offer. I turned back to go into the house when I heard from behind me, simultaneously, “Thank you!”

The two words hit me in an unusual way as if I didn’t deserve their thanks. I turned back and waved. I was in debt to them for rescuing the memory. Softly I muttered back to the girls, “No. Thank you!”

~Christopher Hartman

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