My Parents and Me
By Amy Hebert
My father lifts our bicycles up onto the rack on the back of our car. First goes his bicycle, black, new, and big. Then mine, a blue and silver Schwinn, and then my mother's, an old, red, heavy bicycle that my father nicknamed the Red Flame. My father and I are all ready with our sunglasses and helmets, but my mother, as usual, runs back inside our log cabin to grab her sunglasses and library book so she may read a couple more pages in the car.
As soon as my father secures the bicycles, he and I get into the car as my mother hurries out of our house, down our walkway, and into the passenger seat, hands full with her helmet, library book, sunglasses, purse, and, of course, her herbal tea. My mother does not go anywhere without her herbal tea. We buckle our seatbelts and drive out of our dirt driveway, my parents and me.
It is a beautiful, sunny Saturday. We drive for about ten minutes from East Keene, where we live, to our usual starting place in West Keene, the Keene Beauty Academy. This beauty parlor shares the plain, wooden, creamy colored, one-story building with an insurance business.
No one is here today because both businesses are closed for the weekend. My father parks the car in the vacant lot and we get out of the car. We put on our helmets and sunglasses, and we help take the bicycles off the rack. The fresh air and warm sun kiss my naked face, arms, and legs. The fully bloomed trees all around us flaunt their crisp, green leaves.
After we briefly drink in the sight of the trees, the sweet summer smell of freshly mown grass, and the warmth of the round, bright sun almost directly overhead, we mount our bicycles and begin to ride. I smile as I know that this journey will be a good workout and an enjoyable time spent with my parents.
Taking us around the quiet, rural west side of Keene on our usual bicycle route, my father leads the way. My father grew up in Keene and loves biking in this area. At the beginning of the bike ride, I see his neck muscles twinge as he winces at the pain in his knee. His ACL tear in his first year of college still causes him anguish, but he knows that after a few minutes of bicycling it will feel better.
Without fault, a couple minutes later my father smoothly corrects the jerks of his leg motions and falls into a fluid pedaling rhythm. I can see my father focusing intensely as he keeps his eyes on the road ahead of him. He does not let little nuisances get in his way of having fun and working hard. I closely follow my father, in distance and in mindset.
My father is a hard worker and puts his full attention and energy into whatever he does. I have graciously developed these qualities. I pedal when he pedals, pedaling harder when he pedals harder; I try to stay as close to him as possible, so close that I can see the veins sticking out on the back of his tan legs.
My mother, behind me, sometimes comments on my calf muscles, but she is usually too far behind to notice them. My mother is the caboose of our caravan. She does not mind taking a backseat role in our family's life. She always supports us, carries out the typical motherly chores- laundry, cooking, bill paying, grocery shopping- and never asks for anything. She enjoys seeing us succeed while she stays publicly unrecognized for her hard work.
My father is a strong, fast bicyclist, so I must pay close attention so that I do not fall behind. Sometimes my father slows down so that my mother can catch up; the Red Flame burnt out, says my father. That is when I ease my pace. During these breaks, especially, I notice the beautiful town in which we live.
Our familiar route leads us mainly on flat, paved roads. First, we pass the stone farmhouse which used to have a cow farm behind it when my father lived in Keene. There are no cows there at present, but the field behind the house is still a healthy green. After this silent, stolid building, we loop around the cornfield; it always reminds me of the field in Field of Dreams.
When I was younger, I was scared to look at the cornfield because I thought Babe Ruth or Ted Williams would come walking out of it. Now I enjoy looking at the tall stalks of corn. After the cornfield, we pass through beautiful neighborhoods which are clean, well-kept, and spacious.
The cute houses in these neighborhoods have neatly trimmed hedges, flowers in the window boxes, and an occasional sprinkler in the front yard. The fresh mown grass surrounding the houses gives off a delicious scent. Occasionally, I catch a whiff of a greasy, juicy, charcoal barbeque. It must be chicken; the teriyaki scent is hard to miss. I hear my father pedal faster, so I return my attention to staying right behind him.
Biking is one of my father's favorite hobbies. It is also part of his summer weight loss program. He is successfully in the third month of his self-designed diet procedure, twenty pounds lighter. When he was putting the bikes onto the bike rack, I could not help but notice his smaller stomach and thinner face.
My father credits his success to my mother's healthy cooking style, to fresh summer fruits and vegetables, to my mother's homemade iced tea, to his discipline to stick with a program, and of course, to beautiful days like these to bike. Since biking is enjoyable for my father, he does not mind biking hard to continue with his weight loss program; I can see his determination. I see my father breathe heavily, I see the sweat drip down his neck, I see his calf muscles work ferociously as they contract with each pedal.
I look behind me and see my mom far behind, smiling, having fun, enjoying herself. I feel myself smiling, feel my calves burning, feel the sweat dripping down my face, feel the moisture building underneath my fingers, feel my breath coming in huffs, feel my happiness. I see the familiar people of the late afternoon: gardeners, mailmen, co-workers, friends; I see employees returning home after a full day's work and children playing basketball on their outdoor baskets.
I hear joyful screams of children, running through sprinklers to keep cool in the heat; I hear lawn mowers happily munching on the long reeds of grass; I hear the occasional car slowly creep behind us and then slowly pass us.
I hear the wind flowing through the trees; I hear a bee zoom by my head; I hear my mother and myself laugh when my father cracks a joke about the Red Flame. I hear my father, my friendly father, shout Hello there! to everyone he knows. I hear my mother comment on the beautiful chrysanthemum arrangement in the front yard garden of a house we pass. I feel the road beneath me as we travel onward, my parents and me.
Sometimes I try to pass my father, just for fun. I determinedly match his pace, and I stay ahead of him for a couple tire spins. My father, sensing the competition, digs for more strength and moves forward. I try to keep the lead but soon drop behind him, smiling and laughing. My father grins and lovingly calls over his shoulder, Nice try, Missy!
On certain hills, I race him to the bottom, but I let him retake the lead so that I may follow. My mother carries on in her usual slow but steady manner. Except for my father's occasional puns on the Red Flame and greetings to friends and my mother's compliments on the lovely flowerbeds, we ride on in peaceful silence. We remain in this nature, biking through the west side of Keene, back to the still vacant parking lot in our line of three: motivating leader, eager student, and loving supporter.
We slowly coast to our car. We dismount our bikes and take off our helmets. What a beautiful day! my mother says, as my father and I enthusiastically nod. My father, again, lifts the bicycles onto the bike rack in their fixed order. Before we get into the car, I offer to drive. My father politely declines the request. My parents feel more secure when they drive, even though I have been driving for three years now. Nevertheless, I do not mind sitting in the back seat.
As we drive away from the KBA and away from another bicycling adventure and bonding experience, my parents turn on the radio and we listen to local commercials and oldies. Playing at the moment is a typical, corny commercial for Cheshire Music, a locally owned music store in downtown Keene, followed by the song, Louie Louie by Richard Berry.
My father and I sing the simple lyrics as my mother smiles and taps her feet to the beat. My mother offers me her herbal tea, now cold, but I do not mind. I thank her and take a sip. I have become a fan of the refreshment, thanks to my mother, and drink it regularly now.
As I take the last swig of the herbal tea, my father tells me that maybe tomorrow I will pass him and lead him and my mother on our bike ride. I know that even if I can and do pass him, I will not lead; I will stay behind him. That is where I like to be, in between my father and my mother. I cannot wait for us to bike ride again, my parents and me.
Colby-Sawyer student Amy Herbert wrote this piece for her Writing 105 course with Professor Sally Hirsh-Dickinson.