Street Wise

Published online: Jul 15, 2009 News Ted A. Thompson
A long time ago I warned that some of my columns may not mention boats or boating or water at all. This is one. Since this is the month of Father's Day, I hope you'll indulge my reminiscing.
My wife Roxanne and I recently bought a matching pair of 10-speed bicycles, antique Schwinns in copper metal flake. They are beautiful, just like the ones we used to ride when bicycles had skinny tires and were not equipped with camping trailers, MP3 players or digital command centers. 
We took our first ride together since our college days, when we lived on macaroni and cheese and our transportation was entirely leg-powered. In those days we'd peddle our way to classes with no concern for the price of gasoline, and occasionally we'd ride down to the Burger King if we'd had a significant financial windfall.
Now grandparents, we practiced on the street in front of the house, shaky at first, like a couple of kids learning to ride. We finally managed to roll around the block on two wheels again, confidence increasing as the skills and memories returned. Some things you never forget. Like riding a bike.
Afterwards, sitting on the front porch, I reflected that this is the same street where I taught our youngest daughter, Shelly, to ride when she was only five or six years old. Young girls' bicycles were usually pink or purple in those days, and colorful flower decals were more important than proper tire inflation. 
Alone on the porch I heard voices floating over from the street, carried on my imagination through the hot air of a summer afternoon long past, and too seldom remembered.
"I can't do it, Daddy."
"You can, Shelly. I'll hold you until you get going."
Dozens of times I ran in this street behind my young daughter, propping her up as she peddled, finally letting her go, holding my breath, allowing her to fall, but never to fail.
One day she wobbled away in something like a straight line and was up on her own two wheels at last. "That's it, you're riding, Shelly! Look at you now!"  
The street in front of our house went slightly out of focus as I recalled that event, and I discovered a proud daddy's grin all over my face, all over again. Shelly spent most of her next few summers riding with friends on this street, stopping only long enough to make announcements.
"I skinned my toe, it hurts."  
"Told you not to ride bare footed. Let's take a look, I bet we can fix it."
"Daddy, the chain came off." 
"No big deal, let's take a look, I bet we can fix it."
"Daddy, I need a bigger bike."  
"Yes, Shelly, I know you do. Let's take a look."
And then one day, "Dad.I need a car."
This old rascal of a street has skinned tender knees and bruised young egos. But it has also built confidence and fostered independence. 
This wise old street has allowed our kids the difficult lessons of disappointment, but it has also provided a pathway to success. It has watched our children grow, and move from bikes to cars. Then it has watched them grow up, and move from our homes to their own.
This street has seen them return, eventually, with children of their own. Kids who now draw upon it with chalk. Skate upon it with roller blades. Ride upon it with pink and purple bikes. And sometimes skin their knees.
Roxanne and I are too old to risk skinning our knees, and our egos are beyond bruising. We re-learned to ride bicycles-carefully, without falling down-on this same street where I taught my little daughter to ride. Some things you never forget.
Other things you must remember to remember. As I did from our front porch while the old street out front carried kids past our house on bicycles, peddling their way to the future, and traveling much too fast.
Later, returning from an errand, I parked the car in the driveway. Across the street were two young girls about 10 years old. One was on roller skates, the other had her bicycle-pink, with flower decals-turned upside down, wheels in the air.
"What's the problem?" I asked from the front yard.
"Chain came off. I can't get it back on."
"Let's take a look," I replied, crossing this street I have crossed so many times, on so many similar missions, "I bet we can fix it."
Have a Happy Father's Day,
My best from the Stern
Ted A. Thompson

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