She was waiting for me at the end of the sidewalk with her hands on her hips.
“You may as well put that bicycle in the garage for the next two weeks. You could have been killed. Lucky for you that driver had his eyes on you because you weren’t watching where you were going. Put it away and come in and get washed up. You can help me with supper.”
“Two weeks! Mom…. it wasn’t that close. I had plenty of time to turn around in front of that car!”
“I saw the whole thing out of the bedroom window. You turned right in front of a car without even looking. End of story.”
I knew she was right. I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing. My heart was still pounding and of course, my Mom had been right there to see what happened. I parked the bike in the back of the garage and slowly walked back to the house.
That was the end of the conversation. In two weeks, I had to find enough nerve to ask my Mom if I could ride again. I was at her mercy. She was known to stew about things like endangering your life, and she could possibly tack on another two weeks.
It was 1959 and I was a girl in a neighborhood of mostly boys. I learned that it was way more fun to be a boy than a girl. Boys got to wear pants all the time, boys didn’t have to “do” their hair, and in general they just had more freedom than girls.
I was often told that my behavior was not ladylike. I needed to sit like a lady and act like a lady. I don’t recall boys ever being told to sit like a man or act like a man or be more manlike.
The simple inequalities of childhood were obvious. My brother was a prime example. The fact that he was five years older than me, played into the inequality, too, but at the time, I just thought it was boys vs. girls. My brother got to do all the fun stuff. He got to go outside and help my dad, while I had to stay in the house. He made stuff out of wood and got a two-wheeled bicycle. I had to play with dolls and ride a tricycle. He was allowed to walk back to the woods by himself. Not me. I had to stay close to the house.
Things changed for me when I had my ninth birthday. I got my first two-wheeled bicycle. It was a Schwinn, powder blue and I was in heaven. I had already learned to ride my brother’s three speed English bike, so when I hopped on to my very own bike, it was a piece of cake. There was a steep hill/driveway that led to the back part of our farm behind the granary and it was the best fun to coast down that hill at top speed. At the bottom was a 90 degree turn to the left and then a little creek to cross. I was allowed to ride back there all I wanted. There was also had a bank barn, built with a steep hill leading to the haymow, It was a shorter run that the hill behind the granary, but just as much fun. I could coast all the way down, wind blowing the hair from my face, and coast all the way past the corncrib, the house, and finally to the road.
Finally one day, I was allowed to ride down the road to the next house and back. (My mother stood out in the middle of the road, ready to throw herself in front of a moving car, if one came along and threatened my safety.) The feel of the smooth pavement under my bike tires was unforgettable. Can you imagine how fast I could go if I wasn’t riding on stones or dirt paths?
I had to wait until the next summer to be allowed to ride on the road. I couldn’t go very far, never out of sight of my mother’s watchful eyes, but it was worth waiting for. Pumping my legs up and down, standing up to pedal and gaining speed, wind whooshing in my ears. My first sense of real freedom.