Now that Mom is moved into her room at the nursing home, Baba calls daily and says she wants to visit her. Even though the bond between mother and child is strong, I feel this is killing Baba. Part of me doesn’t want to take her to visit Mom, but the other part of me knows I can’t keep her away. I’m painfully and physically aware of her emotions, despite that fact she doesn’t show or express her disappointment in me. I know I’ve let her down. I feel I’ve let everyone down. Doing the best thing for Mom is not necessarily the same as doing the best for all those who love Mom, or me for that matter. At different times of the day I find myself tearing up, but know I have to pull myself together, because, I’m it. No one is going to help. No one can help.
I walk outside and stroll the block and a half to Mom’s condo to meet with a realtor. The sun on my face brings back memories of when I was a child. Out of the corner of my eye I see a father teaching his son how to ride a bike with training wheels. I smile and say hi. I surmise that the little tyke can’t be more than five years old, donning a blue bike helmet, jeans and matching jean jacket. I grin as I think he’s stylish for a young one. I wonder if he will remember this moment in time when he reaches adulthood. I want to run up to him, hold him by the shoulders, look directly in his eyes and plead,
“Promise me you’ll remember this day with your Dad forever.”
My thoughts turn to Mom again; she never touched a bicycle, not to mention learned how to ride one, nor did she see the necessity for one. Growing up in downtown Montreal, Mom never needed a bike. If she didn’t walk everywhere, she took the bus. Dad, on the other hand, rode like the wind in his youth. He’d tell stories about riding up north with his buddies then settling down to camp for the night. In my photo album there are pictures of Dad and his friends on their bikes smiling ear to ear. I wish I knew Dad when he was young. I wish he had told me his innermost dreams and secrets. I wish I had asked more questions. I wish he were still here.
1970 – Montreal
It was a sunny spring day when Dad returned after a long day at work and called Mom and I out of the house in excitement to present me, at the age of six, with my very own bicycle. I could tell that Mom wasn’t impressed, by her pursed lips and shaking of her head. I, on the other hand was thrilled! This bike was my dream. Just a few weeks before, Dad had pointed it out in the window of a bike store. I remember how in awe I was of it and now it was mine. The bike was a Firestone warrior, oh how my eyes grew in size when I saw it (that’s what Dad would tell me years later). My new bike was magnificent; an ultramarine metallic two-wheel grown-up bicycle with matching rims on both the back and front, AND featured on the handlebars was; rainbow tassels!
“Is it mine?” I asked in disbelief.
“Yes, it’s yours. Do you like it?” Dad looked proudly in Mom’s direction.
Mom crinkled her brow and piped up,
“It looks a little big for her Ray. And, where may I ask, are the training wheels?
You know she’s never been on a bike before, how is she supposed to ride it?”
Mom and Dad looked at each other then immediately went inside and continued the conversation. I slowly crept up to the towering attraction. It was like a magnet, I was drawn to it. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I took my hand and gently rubbed the cold, yet electric chrome; my fingers walked along to the handlebars and tickled the prism tassels. This was the best present ever!
“Daddy… Are you coming outside…where are you?”
I was bursting at the seams. I needed to climb up on this beauty, sit on the black smooth seat and fly. I’d be the envy of the neighbourhood. Where is he, I thought? You can’t just bring this and leave. We need to get going, I need to get going.
“Daddddddyyyyy,” I wailed.
“I’ll be right there,” his voice drifted from inside the house.
Maybe, if I could just get up on this two-wheeler, I could ride it myself. Just as I was about to throw one leg over, Dad walked out.
“Wait for me, you don’t want to break it. I want to show you how everything works. You have to have respect and understanding for this bike.”
Respect it? What was he talking about? A bike is to be ridden and this one was made to fly!
Dad looked at me with his serious look, no smile, just straight to the point,
“We’ll start at the front. Here is your bell.” He gingerly touched it.
Bell? How could I have missed it? I was temporarily blinded as the sun bounced off the silver ball. When my eyes eventually adjusted to the light, I heard his voice continue,
“…these are your pedals where your feet go, when you push on the pedals the chain moves and the chains make your tires go, the faster you pedal the faster your bike goes….”
Blah, blah, blah, that’s all I heard. I was still mesmerized by my bell; I reached up and pulled the ringer. Ding-ding rang the bell. I giggled.
“Paula, are you listening? You can’t ride the bike without understanding how it works. Do you understand me?”
I nodded; I wondered why he was wasting my time with all this stuff about how to make the bike go… blah, blah, blah. My imagination flashed images of me propelling myself along on this brilliant machine, riding with the wind through my hair. I could hear everyone in the area saying,
“Oh look at her, isn’t she just unbelievable? Such a vision!”
Dad interrupted my thoughts, “Are you ready to try it out?”
“Am I? Yes Daddy.” I exclaimed.
Immediately I looked up and saw Mom standing in the front doorway nervously wringing her hands together,
“Paula, please be careful and listen to your father.”
She was about to witness the debut of the unbelievable girl wonder, how lucky was she? There was nothing for her to worry about.
“Yep,” I answered.
Eagerly I put my one leg over the downward tube and found myself with both feet on the pavement. Hey, I was almost there as I held the handlebars in my tiny chubby hands. It took great restraint on my part not to ring the bell again.
“Now, to get up on the seat, put your left foot on the left pedal and I will hold the bike while you place your right foot on the right pedal,” Dad said straining to keep hold.
Whoa, this wasn’t as easy as I had thought. I swayed right then left, as Dad struggled to steady the bike. Within seconds, ta-da, I was balanced on the bike with feet on pedals, hands on handlebars and ready to go.
“We are going to do this slowly, push down on your right foot, then left and I will hold on and run beside you, understand?”
“Yeah,” I said nervously.
“Oh Raymond, don’t go too fast, she’s only little,” Mom piped up from the porch.
Dad looked at Mom and said, “It’s fine, she’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
As I pushed my right leg down, then my left, I realized I was riding, albeit with Dad holding on and running behind me, but still, I was riding! Faster and faster I peddled; I was feeling the spring breeze through my hair. I turned back to look at Dad and noticed he was no longer holding onto the bike. In fact, he was quite a distance behind me. Then it happened. I plunged onto the sidewalk and the bike toppled on top of me.
Just then I heard Mom’s voice off in the distance,
“Oh Ray, I told you not to go so fast, she’s fallen off.”
Squinting in the sunlight I noticed that Mom was about to leap off the porch stairs. I looked down the sidewalk at Dad and saw him put his hand up to stop her. He said sternly in her direction,
“Don’t worry, I’ll look after this. Stay where you are.”
It seemed like an eternity before he reached me in my precarious position. The bike was heavy and I didn’t move. I looked down at my knee. Was that blood? I heard Dad’s voice above me,
“Are you okay? Do you feel any pain?”
With my legs twisted in and around the bike like a pretzel, I wasn’t quite sure what the question meant. The entire scene flashed before my eyes; I wondered how did I get into this predicament. One minute I’m flying, the next I’m on the ground.
Dad’s voice repeated, “Paula, are you okay?”
It was right then that I felt a tremendous weight lift off me. Dad had picked up the bike and placed it against a tree. Bending down, he looked me straight in the eyes and with his back to Mom said softly,
“Paula? Are you okay?”
I started to blubber,
“I think so.” I stared at the blood gushing from my knee.
Dad smiled, lifted me up, looked me over and said, “You’re fine, what’s to cry about? The bike doesn’t even have a scratch, although, it looks like you have a small cut on your knee. Let’s get it cleaned up and try again. What do you say?”
I looked up at him with sad puppy dog eyes, and though I didn’t want to try this again, I wanted Dad to be proud of me, so I nodded … Dad grabbed my bike, took my hand and we walked down the sidewalk towards our home together.
Dad placed the bike next to the garage door, never letting go of my hand.
“Oh Ray, look, she’s bleeding,” Mom had her arms outstretched for a hug, but Dad and I just walked right past her into the house.
“She’s fine Anne, nothing a little bandage won’t cure. She’ll live to ride another day. Won’t ya kiddo?” Dad winked at me.
We tried a couple more times that evening after my knee was bandaged, and from that night forward, I rode my warrior as much as possible. Maybe I wasn’t the girl wonder but I felt exhilarated and free when riding; a right of passage passed down from Dad to me. And Mom? She learned to quietly manage her feelings about my bicycle riding, but always waited at the door, rubbing her hands together, as she prayed I would return home in one piece.