It wasn’t until my family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska in my first grade school year that my bike riding really took off. We lived in a small two bedroom house on 42 second street, with a single car attached garage. Shortly after we moved to Lincoln I remember one day going outside and getting on my sister’s bike. I carefully coasted down the driveway to the street and continued to coast to the end of 42nd street. There was a tree lined ending to my trip. I don’t know how I got back home. I probably pushed the bike, but I always count that as my first successful attempt at bike riding.
My Mom and Dad didn’t know about that first trip I don’t think because it was at my Mom’s urging that my older sister and a friend who lived behind us, took me to the top of the hill that ran by our house. The street was perpendicular to 42nd street. She pushed me and down the hill I went on her little blue bike. I remember it being a steep hill, which means I probably don’t remember it that well. It was steep enough though so that I picked up steam and went pretty fast. I didn’t know how to the work the brakes and was going too fast when the corner came up. Needless to say I didn’t make the turn, ran across the street, jumped the curb and ran into a tree. I was pretty beat up but nothing was broken. I don’t know if Mom and Dad had a talk with my sister but that was the first and only time she tried to help me learn how to ride a bike.
I don’t know what the occasion was but sometime after that I went with my Dad and Sister to the J.C. Penny’s store. Today, Mom says that her bikes were always hand me downs and she swore that her kids would never have hand me down bikes. I don’t remember my sister’s bike but mine was a beautiful red and black. It had balloon tires and was painted on the side of the center bars with jet engines. It looked fast even when it was standing still. If you took the sides off the center bars you found a compartment for batteries which were tied by wires to a horn. When the assembly was complete a pushed button sounded the horn. I had batteries in it when I brought it home, and wore them out within a week. That was the last time I put in batteries in the bike so I didn’t have a horn but that didn’t seem important to me at the time. From age 7 to 12 I rode that bike everywhere. The bike and I were one.
I rode it in the two or three blocks around our house in Lincoln. Before my fifth grade year in school we moved to Mankato, Minnesota. My bike came with me of course. As I got to know the kids I discovered our bikes were a mutual way of traveling from here to there. You could always tell where the kids were playing because of the bikes that littered one front yard or another. Whole packs of us rode the hills above the college. It was Mankato State Teacher’s College then and was my Dad’s place of work. While he taught the college kids, we traveled around the area on our bikes which were great for a fast get away. I remember Dad’s stories about stealing water melons when he was a kid, but with us it was apples. Probably it was the longest season and that was why, but we started to cob (or take) apples when they were small and green and eventually lost interest when they were ripe. I can remember someone saying, “Want to cob some apples?” and we were off. The best trees were the ones that grew near the back fences in back yards. There was easy access and we could fly through, grab a couple apples and be gone before an alarm was sounded from the house. If a tree was in the middle of a back yard, we had to lay our bikes down, climb the fence, run and grab some apples and back track. That was the way most kids were caught so it wasn’t done too often.
I had a friend whose family had a large tract of land with a big garden. While the apples were still flowers on the trees, we ate a lot of rhubarb. We pulled it out by the roots, washed it off at the outside faucet and ate the stem until it became too hard to chew. When they were about ready, we pulled up onions and ate them. We ate peas, beans and carrots too but our favorite was the apple and cobbing them filled most of the end of July and August.
When I was about 12, I wanted a bigger bike. I dreamed of an English bike with three gears and brakes on the handles. For a birthday or something I got a black English bike. I was the only one who had one and it didn’t take me long to realize why. The gears which were shifted at the handles of the bike had a tendency to slip. I never knew when it would happen but the gears seemed to slip whenever I stood up on my bike to push down on the pedals to climb a hill or go faster. When they slipped, my pedals went freewheeling and I would crash down on the bar that separated my legs. It was a difficult time, a time of pain and I don’t think as fondly of that bike as I do the JC Higgins bicycle from J.C. Penny.
When the summer ended we went back to school and we rode our bikes. We stopped riding after the first snow and didn’t ride much until April. But the summers were glorious and I remember most of all, riding our bikes.