Wisdom of the Dead

skeletonOctober has been frightening this year. Not because of skeletons guarding doorways, ghosts in the trees, or dismembered body parts sticking out of yards. What’s frightening are the toxic fumes rising from the  cauldron of our election stew.

What would our predecessors think about how we are treating each other, the vitriol and baseness in these election-based exchanges in this civilized twenty-first century? I see banks of the dead, watching, pale and silent. Some I know–my parents are standing in the front–and many I don’t.

This audience of the dead is in agreement. While we the living are so not. They can’t sweat small stuff anymore, or even big stuff. They now understand division better than any of us, divided from earthly companionship, love, and joy.  Yes, They are divided from anger, pain and heartbreak, too, but what they no doubt remember most is harmony, synchronicity, and consideration.

Because if there is a heaven on earth, that’s where it lies.

I wish these dead could speak to us. In their later years, my parents heard the siren call of “the system is rigged.”  They felt that those in power, the “new world order,” were power hungry and evil, out to ruin the rest of us. With the distance of years, I see my parents having this reaction to counter an overwhelming loss of control, of their lives and their bodies. That we are in control is an illusion in the first place, I think, but as we get older, the veil between this illusion and reality gets much thinner. Reality can be hard.

“The system is rigged” resonates as a reaction to humans feeling “I can’t get what I want.” None of us  get exactly what we want, even though we may work diligently toward a particular goal for years. The system is designed that humans will always have challenges, surprises, and shocks; if we are not growing, we are dying. No wonder people build up resistance, fear, and anger to a Sisyphusian nature of existence, rolling a boulder uphill only to see it roll down again. When too much seems out of control, we want someone to blame. Must be the people in charge which means–hey, it’s the  government.

Is this the grown-up version of blaming your parents for your problems? Blame the government, or the wealthy employers, or really both, since they are the “system.” And when our culture broadcasts this on a large scale, what is the effect on the upcoming generations? The system is rigged! Why work or try to get ahead? Overthrow the current system!

The dead groan in unison. Has history not yet convinced us as a species that democracy, for all its difficulties, is one of the better systems there is? Perhaps the best? No, revolution is not the answer. Unless that revolution means taking responsibility, all of us, for the divisive poisonous stew we are swimming in. Human existence, and politics, is a see-saw, a balancing scale; sometimes events tip in favor of you and your beliefs, sometimes the tip is in my favor. What our elders, and those who have gone before would tell us on Halloween, when the veil between the dead and the living is at it’s thinnest of the year, is this: “Grow up. Stop throwing tantrums and trying to get your way. No one consistently gets their way, ever. The human system is rigged to make sure of that. Start sharing toys and figuring out how to play nice.”

Shame on us for acting so selfishly and childishly. That’s what the dead would say. But they can’t talk anymore. They only listen. What wisdom they could offer from the other side of the divide. Divisiveness is hell, they’d say, but hearing each other while you still can, then leaning in toward harmony, not discord, is the closest thing to heaven–on earth.

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The Magic of Buried Banana Peels

azaleasWhy didn’t I stop my elderly and disheveled mother from scooting out to the rose bushes flanking our front door to bury the breakfast banana peels? The short answer would be: she’s my mother. The longer answer would be: she so believed those banana peels would help my roses, she had me half-convinced, too. That was how we rolled, for decades. So firm were her beliefs about any number of  VERY outside of the box things, that I couldn’t unequivocally decide she was wrong.

So I didn’t stop her from rooting around under the rose bushes, even though I was uncomfortable with the activity for a number of reasons.  Foremost was the fact that this woman who was still climbing trees to prune them when she was in her sixties, and showing off her can-can kick in her seventies, was now in her late eighties, post a few strokes and the passing of my father.  She was frail, unsteady on her feet, and had retreated deep inside herself, courtesy of depression and beginning dementia. Second was the fact I wasn’t super supportive of burying any of our garbage a few feet from the front door, especially in daylight, and I wasn’t too sure my neighbors would be, either. And third, while I was open to the fact that the peels might help the roses, I was also concerned that rooting around the rose roots in the dirt among the few remaining strawberry plants that were supposed to be ground cover could be more harmful than helpful to that little front walk ecosystem.

I also didn’t stop her because my mother loved to garden; one of the only joys she had left. It didn’t bring a smile to her face; nothing did at that point. But fussing over plants was about the only place where present-day challenges would fade, and she would lose herself out in my yard, burying banana peels or pulling weeds, or in the house, walking around grooming my houseplants. Gardening was a comfort, one she’d enjoyed as long as I could remember. If I made her come in the house, or stopped her from taking her tipsy weak self up the stairs to complete her houseplant routine, what was a saving her for? If she died gardening, I knew she’d be happy.

My mother has not been in my garden for a number of years, or any garden for that matter, except perhaps a great garden in the sky. If we have any say in what our heaven is, my mother is gardening. My indoor and outdoor plants now survive despite the care, or lack thereof, that I and my husband can give them. Even with her crazy schemes, my mother was a better influence on any garden than I probably will ever be, even with a horticulture degree as one of my credits.

But I did inherit my mother’s curiosity about plants and what makes them grow. So last week, years after those banana peels were laid to rest under my roses, as I researched the answer to the garden legend that peonies need ants to bloom (they don’t), I stumbled upon banana peels under the rose bushes. Roses supposedly like buried banana peels because they increase soil potassium. However, the soil microorganisms breaking down those banana peels have to extract nitrogen from the soil to complete their job, so the soil can end up low in nitrogen along the way, and without even much potassium to show for it. A net negative. Composting the banana peels first is the way to go, followed by spreading compost around the roses.

I may have also inherited impatience from my mother. Who wants to wait for months down the road for the banana peels to be composted, after all that monotonous effort of liming and turning?  Burying banana peels to make your roses bloom is magical, a fairy tale we want to be true. Practical is important, but magic is imperative.

Note to son: the day I shuffle my silver-haired self out to scatter used coffee grounds under the azaleas in your yard, let me be! I’m doing just fine.

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A Walk in the Park

sleepyhollowpathToday, March 30, is national Take a Walk in the Park Day.

We’d no doubt be better off if this wasn’t an activity that required a national remembrance. I’ve lived almost exclusively on the East Coast and yes, we need reminders to “take a walk in the park.” To “smell the roses.” We are a production-driven culture.

Our son was born and spent his formative early years in western Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh, almost a stone’s throw from the Ohio border. I’m glad he did. Our friends there knew to take walks in the parks, smell the roses, enjoy time with family and friends. Pittsburgh natives consider themselves part of the East Coast. This fascinated me, because in addition to being geographical inaccurate, Pittsburgh does not feel like the East Coast to me; this was one of the biggest, and appreciated, differences.

But back to the East Coast, Massachusetts to be specific, this past weekend. Having enjoyed a family get-together Saturday evening, my husband and I set out on a sunny Easter afternoon to take a walk in the park. Where we live, trails and woods and open space are abundant. We are fortunate to have an incredible national park with miles of trails a few minutes from our home. This was my envisioned destination, but we got to talking, and drove by the turn to the closest entrance to the park. Minutes later, we were driving by picturesque Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, a historic landmark that offers the resting places of Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, for starters. I suggested we park, and walk there. This wasn’t as strange an idea as it might sound.

When I was younger, cemeteries were to be avoided. Creepy places with possible phenomenon that we didn’t understand and that could be very dangerous. Most of us have formed our ideas of what happens in cemeteries from horror movies. But upon moving to New England, I discovered beautiful cemeteries with woods and trails that connect the cemetery “parks” to the greater network of trails. Some of our dog-parent friends even chose cemeteries as their first destination to exercise with their canine companions off-leash, undisturbed on quiet paths under the trees. With our dog by my side–or not, when she happily raced and cavorted across the lawns–I began to discover the enfolding allure offered by these picturesque cemeteries, laid out along winding paths on landscaped grounds guarded by large tracts populated by wise old trees. A peaceful oasis where we lay our loved ones to rest.

Was it the East Coast in me? Before we’d walked very far, my mind wandered back to a concrete, brass-tacks issue. I observed that we had made no purchase or reservation for a plot of land where we were to be buried. Where did my husband want to be buried?

sleepyhollowAnd just like that, on that sunny Easter afternoon, a day traditionally to rejoice in resurrection and life, I unintentionally disturbed the peace by cracking open the lid on the many unsettling aspects of death. The next ten minutes covered the claustrophobia of being put in a box and buried, the burning hell horror of going up in flames even though ashes were probably preferable to a rotting body, and where did the ashes go then? For all of us who have close loved-ones who have passed away, we’ve come face-to-face with the challenges of plotting this after-death chapter. The exercise can be quite rough. My parents never made any decisions. Their children are still trying to.

And then, my husband and I tabled the discussion for another day, or year, or decade. On what day and date will we have needed to decide? That is, of course, the biggest uncertainty.

And a most convincing reason to take a walk in the park. Often.

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Nail Polish Dos and Don’ts?

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When black nail polish hit the fashion scene, I had reservations. I love dark and Goth in its own place and time, but not for everyone anywhere. When black nails became common on the red carpet, that dampened the whole counterculture rebellious effect of  black where we didn’t expect it, like on lips and nails. Were I prone to dressing Goth at the time, I might have moved to pink and tulle and rhinestones. Then out came iridescent blue and green nail polish, Swamp Thing finger-tips for the masses. I judged those colors unattractive enough to be short-lived, and they were. But expanding nail-polish color boundaries to the extreme has made us more open to color variation, and anything that encourages personal style is a net plus.

I have a favorite shade of gray nail polish. My eighty-six-year-old aunt says this color, on my toes, makes me look like a corpse–and somehow that just enhances my enjoyment of painting all ten toenails that very shade! On to the question of the week:

Is there a certain age beyond which a woman should not wear an unnatural color of nail polish?

B: A certain age? No.  A certain reason–as in, trying to look like you are the same age as your daughter, or granddaughter? Yes.

D: No. When I hear a question like that, I ask myself, would anyone ask something like that about a man?

P: No. I think whatever color a woman thinks looks good on her she should wear… sometimes colors one might associate with youth are not strictly for the young, as in Advanced Style, my favorite blog!

R: Oh God, no. Live till you die. Maybe not a mini-skirt or a bikini. But nail polish? Go wild, baby. 

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George Clooney, Universal Dream Man?

secretslogoIs George Clooney every woman’s dream man?

I ask this question because everyone seems to think so, including my widowed mother who as she approached her nineties, ripped a huge photo of George Clooney out of a magazine to keep in her kitchen. Betty suffered from dementia, but she still knew she wanted to wake up to George!

(Now, let me answer it for myself, since I am panel member “B.”)

B: Not for me. (Sorry, George.) The only thing I wonder about is why the media choose him to single out as the gold standard. Perhaps out of respect to his aunt, Rosemary Clooney, Hollywood royalty herself.

D: Every older straight woman and maybe some gay men.

P: George Clooney is undoubtedly extremely handsome, and I would not turn him down. Do I dream about him? No, but every time I see him, I think “He is one handsome man.” He is today’s Cary Grant.

R: Not now; he’s married. And so am I.

So if not George Clooney, then who is The Dream Man?

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Salvaging Our Future: True Resource Management

I don’t like seeing anything go to waste. Not anything. Does this stem from the stories many of us heard as kids as we sat stuck at the dinner table until we cleaned our plate because “children are starving in Africa”? Or is it wise management? Or perhaps guilt and wisdom combined. Children starving in Africa created an early awareness that resources are not infinite for everyone. Now, several years later, we’re aware that infinite resources are no longer a given for anyone anywhere.

I reuse, recycle, and recreate everywhere I can, and get great satisfaction from such efficiency. I do believe, however, that many of the young adults stepping in to take over the running of the world find this tendency quaint, old-fashioned, or just plain annoying. They are aware of basic environmental stuff, saving trees and recycling containers, but do they get that resource management just starts there?

My nephew was recently hired to film a documentary about a man who salvaged scraps from restaurants to create good meals. His mother observed, “I do this almost every night, and no one is making a documentary about me!” I do, too, and–no film crews. According to my sister-in-law, this is a hot topic, with recent articles in The Wall Street Journal about top chefs holding competitions to make meals from scraps and in the The Washington Post about using scraps, along with less than perfect agricultural specimens in support of the farmer. I love these ideas, but do the perhaps 20-something and 30-something writers and editors now in charge really see using leftovers to create another meal as a breaking new trend? Generations coming up behind me so totally immersed in having their meals, and beverages, prepared by someone else, at Chipotle or Starbucks or wherever, only to throw out the leftovers, and buy a new meal next time hunger strikes that they can’t fathom this type of efficiency and creativity? Say it isn’t so! I made a conscious decision not to follow the path of my parents’ generation, not to color my family’s dining times with bleak pictures of children starving in Africa. But now I’m thinking, maybe we all should have bleakened a meal or two by bringing the focus back to the starving children in Africa, or India or China, for that matter.

When my husband and I began to search for a home around Pittsburgh as newly-weds, we drove along the old highways south of the city past mile after mile of buildings, bricks and steel, crumbling and going to seed because there was land available in newer areas that could be developed in a flashier more contemporary way. We did not move anywhere near these wrecks, but the waste of all the resources to develop these now crumbling and abandoned structures was disheartening. The sadness pervaded the very air in these towns, and stayed with me…while I stayed far away.

We bought a house, a new one in a newly-developed area, and soon I was not driving around crumbling towns or spanking new ones; I was parenting my young son at home in my new neighborhood. As I joined with other formerly working mothers in my neighborhood for play dates with our toddlers, I began envisioning a new type of employment service, an exercise that intensified when I moved to a Boston suburb with a now school-aged son. My neighborhoods were busting with mothers professional in so many areas. Lots of work experience, multiple undergraduate degrees, masters and doctorates we were, filling up that sippy cup, or driving the carpool. We wanted to be hands-on Moms, but many of us would have also loved the mental challenge, and value, of working…not to mention the income. I dreamed of an employment service that matched parenting moms with corporations who valued their abilities and wanted them as flex-time employees or consultants.

But the problem wasn’t just lack of an infrastructure to bring the two camps together. There was no serious pervasive interest in or value placed on all this talent languishing away around the swing sets. If you had a contact from when you were working full time, you were good. Otherwise, forget it. I discovered that anything I had done or written more than 24 months ago (and the fact that it had been in different states didn’t help) didn’t matter. What had I done in the last two years? That was the only truly important fact. Really? So rather than valuing my years as a writer amassing experience, and clips, once I’m home with my child not writing every week for money for a few months, I have also forgotten everything I ever knew and lost every ability I ever had? How does this make sense?

Now someone like me is apparently an even bigger buzz kill for potential employers: I’m over fifty. I’ve got more to contribute to any organization than I did in my twenties or thirties, as do my female, and male, colleagues. Do we bring different qualities than younger counterparts? Or course we do. That’s the point. We may not be as speedy. We may not want to multi-task because we know better. We may not be as technologically savvy. But we may very well be more organized. More skilled. More able to identify a problem with more experience in solving it. More stable. More dependable. More “we” then “me”.

And how about more joyful? Some of us can work now because we want to, not because we’re worried about paying our bills or because we have to prove ourselves, but because we like what we do, we’re good at it, and we want to contribute. Lowered stress frees up a lot of energy to fire synapses. When I hear repeatedly about ageism in the workplace, employees being phased out because they are in their fifties—oh, horrors—the creative efficient resource manager in me wants to tear my hair out, again. More waste. More horrible, and unnecessary, waste.

Our best way to navigate forward, for the environment, for the economy, for our humanity, is as a multi-aged, multi-experienced team. Holistic management of all our resources, animal, vegetable, mineral? Now that’s a trend to follow…

 

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Living Beyond the Detours

In 2015, I am hoping to embrace failure. This is the path to finding my true calling, or so innumerable self-help articles proclaim.

I’ve tried to feel good about failure. I’ve talked it up to friends and family members when looking for a positive spin in an unintended, and unwelcome, situation. But unless you’re Richard Branson, or some other successful visionary innovator with plenty of successes already in line, we find it hard to get jazzed about failure.

I don’t like the word. I’d like to retire it. When Oprah interviewed Justin Timberlake for her Master Class series, he chose not to use the word. But I can’t exactly come up with a word that fits for me, only that comes close. A word along the lines of redirect. A word that means new beginning. Failure seen merely as a road sign—road closed; find another route.

I don’t mind getting help with road directions.

You’re trying to get to the oyster hatchery? WHOA! Are you going the wrong way! You needed to take that right on Turnbuckle Road about half an hour ago, right after you got on Route 9000. Now that you’re here, though, you need to…

Directions noted, with appreciation, I can step on the gas and follow the new track.

But missed turns and helpful direction aren’t so clear, or welcome, once the subject is something other than streets and mileage…

Why now? In 2015, for the failure thing? Because I’m increasingly aware of how easily protection mode takes over, how we tend to keep on the roads we’ve traveled, and more or less figured out. We’ve worked hard, raised our children, have something put away for retirement—we made it this far; we’re okay. Safe-ish. Almost secure. Now what. Keep holding on with all our might? No risks? Avoid challenges? Stay away from anything that’s not a sure bet? Okay. Is life basically over then? Just coast now to the finish line? I’m observing myself, and family and friends at my general stage in life in grand protection mode. Try that? Really? What if we fail? We don’t want to fail. We’ve worked too hard to not be failures. And we haven’t liked it when we have failed. We feel – less than.

And so, we encourage our own atrophy.

Can we break that cycle? Can we change our perspective? What if we are okay with failure? With something not going the way we’d planned? We’d hoped? Then can we try something we’ve never tried before, even if we’re not sure we’ll be good at it? We could…go after that job we really want. Go back to school. Change careers. Be that artist. Tackle that project. Start that business. Be that innovator. Follow our path. Hit a detour. Go around it. Live. Right?

So 2015, here’s to embracing failure. And living beyond the detour sign…

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Crazy Happy Hearts

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I’m weeding one of my garden beds, and for the first time in four years, I see little strawberry plants under the weeping Japanese cherry. I thought we’d lost them for good after an energetic spring weeder in the family identified the little strawberry plants as weeds. Seeing these little green plants thriving in late August, as the other garden plants and bushes have reached their peak and started the downhill journey to winter dormancy, warms my heart.

Opportunity only knocks once. He who hesitates is lost. Strike while the iron is hot. Sayings to increase stress for sure. The world moves fast enough. To imagine that we only go by everything once and if we miss is, that’s it, that’s a nearly debilitating concept for me. And not true, I’ve decided.

The tide must be taken when it comes. This is more like it. Because the tide will always come back. Every day, every month, every year. The important things in life, like opportunity, and tides, and strawberry plants, come around again, and again. Working the seasons in the garden is always a joyful calming reminder of the returning nature of life, along with its consistent beauty, strength, and natural order.

I believe there is a returning nature of love, too, in all its guises.  Love can come around again and again. So that’s what I write about, the things that I believe could happen; the things I want to believe do happen. Like when a single Manhattan book editor and widowed mariner ignite a decades-old high school attraction at the Jersey Shore. That’s the premise for my newest release, out this month: Crazy Happy Hearts. Susan’s and Kenny’s story is a reunion story.

Opportunity doesn’t only knock once. We really do get second chances.

Crazy Happy Hearts by Beverly Breton is available at http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=5758. and also available on Amazon and other on-line stores.
To discover more titles, and read excerpts and reviews, go to www.beverlybreton.com    

 

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Meditation on Laundry

This was going to be called, “Mountain of Laundry”. We just returned from a short, active family vacation, and there it is – a mountain of laundry. Sort of along the idea of Sisyphus rolling his rock to the top of the mountain, just to have it roll down, over and over again. Then, I thought, perhaps an adjustment in attitude was required.  I should follow the yoga way of being in the moment; turn the all-too-familiar activity into a “meditation in motion”. For a somewhat mundane task, like shopping, tidying or putting dinner on the table, there is a kind of value to the work. Just because it’s domestic doesn’t mean it’s not important, especially in terms of having a comfortable family life. I suspect that our relationship to laundry reveals a lot about who we are. So, here goes…

I don’t actually hate laundry, and prefer it to some of the other chores.  I had thought, naively, that laundry would be a thing of the past, a la, “The Jetsons”, somehow programmed and automated. Not so. In fact, laundry has changed little since my youth, and I wonder if it has to do with being, still, “women’s work”. That is to say, “If they can send a man to the moon….” Same basic washer/dryer pair (sturdy, low-tech Sears Kenmore); same woven plastic laundry baskets; pretty much same detergent, Tide or Arm and Hammer; and same process: out of hampers, sorting into “whites” and “coloreds”!!! A couple turns of the dial and off it goes. Then, the reverse sorting; the folding, generally on our big bed; the leaving out to be put away. (Although my sons learn to do their own before leaving for college) I think that’s pretty much exactly what I remember my Memere doing, back in the day.

But not exactly. When I lived with my aunt in CT, I remember a neighbor who had the old-fashioned wringer machine – rather nightmarish. Everyone we knew had a clothes line, and used it. Now, only for wet towels after the beach. And racks, for those sweaters gently cleaned with Woolite. There used to be “delicates” – lingerie, nylons, and my grandmother’s corset, that were washed separately in their own little bag. And, ironing – so quaint. We had special clothes for church, which had to be ironed, wrinkle-free. Fortunately, not the hats and gloves, though.

As a large family, we always had a lot of laundry, but not so many clothes. Being close in age and size, sisters shared and brothers shared. Never my own pair of underwear, and all of us fished our socks from a communal drawer. There was an interesting period where the washer and/or dryer expired from so much use, refusing to be resuscitated. My mother at that time was not able to put together enough money for a new washer and/or dryer, so it became a matter of trips to the Laundromat with rolls of quarters, a couple times a week, with, I believe, up to ten loads. Now, that was an outing.

I myself had many years without washer or dryer, living apartment-style in NYC and in other places. Plenty of hours in the Laundromat, waiting/watching, with never a romance springing up. And then, one day, in Brooklyn, I found a laundry run by a Chinese family, who would wash and fold my dirty clothes, very cheaply, very well and with a smile. I was so grateful, I wrote them into a chapter of my book, Spanish Soap Operas.

My “load” today is not so heavy, really. The boys help, certainly. The machines do what they’re supposed to very dependably. In lieu of “delicates”, I learned from a wise friend, Noriko, to rescue my bright, better-made garments from the dryer (the destroyer of all fabrics), and let them air dry in the bathroom. The routine is familiar and fairly relaxing. The only surprise is the occasional unfamiliar garment that shows up, neat, clean and washed, but belonging to someone other than us. We have a lot of company, and they leave all kinds of things behind.

And so, my meditation ends, although the laundry remains. In all, I’m grateful for the convenience, and the physical ability to do the task, the clean clothes, and the nice smell. I do it, willingly, but if that nice Chinese family were to open their little store here in Bedford, would I be glad to see them.

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Folks and Spokes – or, Hold the Spandex

Too late now – the invasion has begun. The bicycle folks are out in numbers, in our little town, and it looks like they’re here to stay. Almost every day, mostly all day, there are bicyclists on the road, clad in their black and neon spandex outfits, hydration at the ready, sunglasses, and – helmets, I’m happy to say. Like it or not, car drivers and pedestrians are having to share the roads and crosswalks with the folks on bikes. Most times, we adjust, but sometimes it’s not so pretty and can be downright scary. Twenty years ago when we moved here, it was not so. Now, they are part of the landscape: bright, quick, darting insects, in whizzing motion, on the periphery of my vision.

I enjoy riding a bike myself on occasion, on quiet roads or cleared trails. More or less I enjoy the scenery, taking my time, fresh air, small hills and few gears. Not so much for the bike folks, I think. The bikes themselves are highly engineered pieces of sporting equipment, not mere transportation. Expensive. And tricky to repair, requiring knowledge and expertise. The bikers themselves are by and large a fast, fit group, no dawdlers among them, and in it for speed and distance, I suspect, not recreation. No doubt there is merit in it, and benefit: stress relief, exercise, endorphins, perhaps and maybe a kind of meditation in motion. But, the hazards! My frequent reaction is to wonder, “Don’t they fear for their lives on these narrow shoulders?” or “Don’t the gas fumes bother them?” or, “Why do they want to scale that big hill on a bike, anyway?” Even more perplexing, to me, is the “spinning” craze, of indoor cycling that gets nowhere and sees nothing, but has its true adherents, I know. Maybe, like the more extreme sports, it’s the adrenaline rush and the escape from everyday problems. Yet, that hasn’t been, for me, the experience of biking.

I logged a lot of miles as a kid on a bike on rural roads in Connecticut, and I know that my husband was attached to his bike like another leg, that got him where he wanted to go. It was freedom, for us. No helmets, of course. There were the occasional accidents, although none fatal. My cousin Bobby had a spectacular “wipeout” at the bottom of Newgate Hill. We must have been ten; I was first on the scene to observe the damage to boy and bike, a bloody mess. I rode like holy hell to get help from the adults. Only, it was a minor cut after all. Apparently, the forehead bleeds a lot. My husband bought a piece of land on the Cape (with his mother), from a settlement after being hit by a car on his bike, around 12 years old. Also broken leg, missing weeks of school, and tutor at home. Our associations with bikes were not very glamorous or associated with anything like achievement. A means to adventure, yes, but not an end in itself.

In another chapter of my history with bikes, I arrived in Gloucester, England for a homestay during a semester abroad, and was promptly given “my bike”. That was it; no family car. Wherever I needed to go in town, hop the bike (buses or trains for longer rides). The trick there was figuring out where I was going. Fortunately, I had a self-appointed guide, the family’s 12 year old daughter, Moira, who took me everywhere. The biggest adjustment, of course, was the left-lane car traffic, and for bikes, too. And, the experience of being among so many other bikers on the old city streets. Yet, we managed without much fuss, and I’m here to write about it today. In visiting Europe in more recent years, there is still a “bike culture”, men and women, young and old, casual or business, priests and nuns. But not much spandex, that I could see. And how many would have said they were riding for exercise, I’m not too sure. Don’t think so, though. My son made great use of the bike-share program in Paris, and it seemed to work very well, but the bikes themselves were kind of bland, gray, workhouse models, maybe less likely to be coveted and stolen.

My old purple bicycle has gone out to pasture. I’d like a new bike; that is, I’d like to be able to go bike riding. But where? I’m still old-school when it comes to bikes: safety, comfort, and enjoying the scenery. Hold the spandex, please.

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