Friday, May 9, 2008

Bicycle baby

by John D Ramsey

Claire is the best thing ever to come out of Iowa. That is what I tell her and that is what I believe. Claire does not remember Iowa because we moved to Minnesota when she was 18 months old. I remember moving day. I had been living in an empty house in Hastings. On the day before moving day, I went to the florist a couple blocks way and bought flowers for Lisa and Cara and I bought a stuffed animal for Claire. I had picked up a CD for Daniel. As it turns out, the CD played the wrong Morrison. When the family arrived at the house, Claire entered the kitchen through the mudroom and hugged the stuffed puppy. She was the first of us to feel at home in Minnesota.

A few months into the new job, I splurged on a bicycle, a Giant Farrago DS. It was black and heavy, but its complex suspension system was easy on my tailbone. Before long, I cobbled it up with a bicycle seat for Claire. Claire and I rode everywhere in Hastings. We rode to Vermillion Falls. We rode to the Mississippi. We rode downtown by trails and backstreets. I remember watching kayaks from the footbridge high above the Vermillion River. They would fight their way upstream on the short rapids beneath the falls and then float down into a clear wide basin on the other side of the bridge. It was a workout for them, but it was joy for Claire and me. In Minnesota, it is seldom warm, especially in the mornings and evenings when we would ride. Claire learned that she could warm her hands by wedging them between my bicycle’s gel seat and my rump. When I objected she would remove her hands . . . for a minute.

That arrangement lasted two summers. When Claire was three, we bought a used trailer bike. It was black and matched my Giant. Claire took to it naturally and she pedaled as we rode. We sailed down the bicycle trail on the bluff above Silver Lake and across the levy to Lock and Dam No. 2. We watched barges pass through the lock. We even rode with the trailer bike together downhill from Cannon Falls to Welch Springs. Claire was my bicycle baby.

When Claire was six, I had a whim. Lisa acted upon my whim, and Claire began horseback-riding lessons. She began first on Pony Boy. Her instructor, Margy, noticed that Claire guided Pony Boy by gently leaning where she wanted him to go. Claire was a natural, Margy said. Perhaps she learned this from the sensation of movement while riding the trailer bike. This was fascinating to me until it was time for Claire to learn to ride a bicycle by herself. She tried to lean the bicycle as if it was a pony. She could not quite get the hang of it. Still one of my most pleasant memories of Minnesota was watching Claire on her mount loping along the horizon back toward the arena. Claire was riding a real horse by then; it was spectacular.

Nevertheless, Claire was too big for the trailer bike, so I had to ride the trails of Hastings by myself. All the sites were the same, but the experience was less.

When Gabby was born, I realized that I had gained enough weight that I could barely manage to pull myself up hills. Gabby was not my bicycle baby. Gabby loved to swing in the shade of a box elder tree, but that is another story.

Cara was never my bicycle baby, either. She was my football baby because when she was born I could carry her on my forearm with her head cradled in my palm as if I was a running back and she was the ball. Daniel was 10 ½ pounds when he was born and was too big to be a football baby. Gabby is my football baby now because last fall she watched the Chiefs with me (until they started losing every game and then no one watched them).

When we moved home to Kansas City two years ago, Claire’s horseback-riding instruction stopped. It was not our intent for it to stop. We just never found a new instructor, and the budget just did not allow for riding lessons. The good news is that over the winter, Claire taught herself to ride a bicycle. I am now teaching her the rules of the road. We look forward to a summer of riding. Claire is no longer my bicycle baby. I think she is becoming my bicycle buddy, and I am blessed. Maybe when I am an old man, Claire will ride a tandem with me. Perhaps she will pedal hard enough for the both of us. I will not make her ride up the Mississippi bluffs, but perhaps we will sail down them just once for memories.

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