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Memories from a first, and last ride

When I was 10, Daddy got an old bike from a co-worker and brought it home to me. Seventy-five percent of it was covered in the dried blood of its past victims (Daddy said it was just rust, but I knew better) and the rest was a faded navy blue.

One handlebar grip was a grimy color that had probably been white 20 years earlier. The other grip was missing, leaving a sharp, lethal edge that reached out to slice my hand if I turned my back. And there was no kickstand. I affectionately named him “Old Blue”.

Now, I was a confirmed indoor kid, and I’d never even been on a bike! The seat was way too tall for me, but it was rusted in place, so I had to start and stop beneath the magnolia in the front yard where I could reach up and hang onto a low branch until I got my balance.

Then, I could either jump off quickly if I was finished practicing, or stand up on the pedals and wobble across the yard to the street if I was going to work on my technique.

Our neighborhood was built as a circle, with a one-block street bisecting it. I did my practicing on one hemisphere because on the other side there was a scary hill, and I wasn’t going near it until I was a better rider.

It was two weeks before I was ready to try the hill, and that day, I spent the first several turns around the half circle, giving myself a pep talk. Round and round I went and then, before I could back out, I skipped the turn onto the middle street and went straight for the hill. I was bulletproof!

A prodigy!

Nothing could stop me!

Up the rise I pedaled that old monster, and when I reached the top of the hill, and started down, I panicked. I forgot where the brakes were and how to steer, so down the hill I went, standing on the pedals and hollering bloody murder, braids flying in the wind.

We hit the curb in front of my house going a hundred miles an hour and went airborne. In midair, we parted company and I landed beneath the Magnolia tree and the bike fetched up under a pine about 20 feet away. I was knocked coo-coo, but Old Blue was a goner. He’d maimed his last kid. There were rusty bits of demon bike all over the front yard.

I got a pink three-speed with a white basket for Christmas that year, but I was an indoor kid, and I’d learned my lesson.

I never did learn how to ride a bike.

Pepper Ellis Hageback is a resident of LaGrange.