Sunday in the Park
Ryan Summerlin June 2, 2007
When my adult children and their families were planning to come up for the day, I suggested they bring along the children’s bikes. I live in a mostly flat neighborhood where kids and bikes are as prolific right now as dandelions. So Randy brought his bike and Mz Iz’s bike, who is almost six and rides a two-wheeler without training wheels. His son, Axel has a mini tricycle like Jenny’s boy, Tyler. For the first couple of hours of the visit, the bikes stayed on top of the cars.
We caught up, the kids ran around the yard — all three cousins — then we ate lunch. The plan was to plant my tiny, postage stamp-sized vegetable garden. It was really the project of the day. The kids love harvesting the little garden each summer. The strawberries that grow and spread each year, produce enough of a crop for one good outing if the magpies remember this a shared-use plot. Then later in the summer, the snow peas keep repeating themselves, so we pick and snack and the next week they’ll be another batch to munch. Sometime in August, we will pull up the carrots, beets, radishes and green onions. If any tomatoes have survived and have ripened to red, we’ll harvest those, too. Then we have a little meal, cooking it all up, and the work of all summer is pretty much gone by dessert. In a few short years it has become an expected tradition.
So I was ready this day with the seed packets and the trowels and the garden gloves. The dirt had been carefully turned over in advance and all was ready. But after lunch, my son decided it was time to ride bikes. He remembered there was an old bike of mine in the garage and suggested insisted — I ride with them. I knew the way out — I reminded him the bike had two flat tires. He produced a pump. I said I thought the back brake didn’t hold. He produced a wrench. I said all the kids had helmets and he threw a ball cap at me. By now the kids were all excited that, Oma has a bike! Who knew? I had kept it a secret for years. Finally, there was no more ducking out and I put on a pair of, what — tennis shoes, sneakers, Keds — what do we call those shoes anymore? And I jumped on board.
There was much celebration in the driveway. Oma has a bike! Oma is riding the bike! Look, Oma on a bike! My own adult children were careful not to make too much of the event they had rarely seen in their own lifetimes. My mother never allowed me to ride bikes growing up because they were labeled dangerous. Ditto tree climbing. And undignified, for a girl. And though I had snuck rides on friends’ bikes and climbed trees in neighbors’ yards, it was a piece of childhood deferred. My ample seat rested on the narrow bike seat and Mz Iz, her dad and I took off down the street. The younger kids stayed behind amid tears. The time between tricycles and bicycles is such a graduation. And I soon remembered such freedom.
Mz Iz looked over at me during the first block and said, Wow, you must be a really good bike rider, and when asked how she came to that conclusion she pointed to my head. You don’t even have to wear a helmet! I explained that my bike was so old, that it came from a time when we didn’t know enough to wear helmets. This she understood immediately. Her school had been studying The Olden Days. She had been sharing with me earlier some of what she had learned. Did I know that in The Olden Days people didn’t even have cell phones? Or computers? Or televisions? Or cars? It was close to unfathomable for her. And I had to admit that I was so old, I had grown up without a couple of those. Throwing in the pre- helmet days really sealed the deal of just how old I was/am.
But it was soon forgotten. You have a fast street, Oma, Iz declared. And with the eyes of a not-quite-six-year-old-on-a two-wheeler, I saw my street differently. There was a slight decline moving away from my house. Around her Salt Lake City neighborhood, all the sidewalks are flat. So we pedaled and cruised and a breeze blew back in my hair and I suddenly remembered that remarkable sensation of flying and imagining and pretending that came with a bike ride. When we hit the McCloud Creek trail, where I often walk, I pointed out the sleeping spots of the deer and then I reminded her dad how he used to fish there when it was called, simply, Kid’s Creek. So we stopped at the perfectly placed park bench and took turns walking on the rocks in the water. It felt slightly brave.
By the time we returned home, the boys were busy in the yard, running around and had long forgotten our abandonment of their slower moving vehicles. We dismounted, kicked down our kickstands and immediately went out back to plant. After digging the not-so-straight lines in the dirt, we were ready. The handfuls of seeds mostly made it where they were intended. After planting the carrots, and the lettuce, the excitement wore off when the neighborhood kids appeared and a water rocket was introduced. I finished planting while the yard erupted in squeals of delight as my son took charge of the launching of the rocket. He made it shoot the highest. He was the coolest dad of the hour.
When they left, hours later, my daughter called to say her son had fallen asleep before they hit the first stoplight out of town. I laughed and said we had done a good job of tiring them out. Then I hung up the phone and fell asleep on the couch. When I woke, hours later, my own seat was, um, sore. Ditto my shoulders and I realized I had dirt under my nails and on my shirt. In the yard were the scattered remains of the day — bubble blowers and trowels and seed packets weighted down by rocks. For my grandchildren, I realized these will one day be The Olden Days. I hope they remember them with some of the great fondness I feel for this past Sunday in the Park