I find it surprising that some random happenstance can trigger a vibrant memory, long gone.I saw a group of young men moving several loads of straw bales the other day, and suddenly I was 8 years old. It had been a great wheat crop, I remember hearing during an announcement at the supper table one night, and we were likely going to have more straw than we could use. If indeed we were able to sell several loads of straw, there just might be a surprise in it for the three youngest kids in the family.
I shared a bedroom with my sister Debi, and we whispered late in to the night, wondering what it could be. I guessed new gloves for baling hay, which was much harder than baling straw. My sister guessed a new house, with gables and grandeur. She began sketching the layout of the mansion, which included an ice rink and a swimming pool.I figured I should do my part, so I tried to picture what color these hay-baling gloves might be. Hard to believe we were raised by the same parents, just three and a half years apart!
To tide us over while we waited on this big surprise (possibly) in the making, we found ourselves with a newly plowed field in which to hunt arrowheads. The wheat had been harvested, the straw all baled, and Dad was preparing for the planting of fall sorghum sudan.If we got all our chores done, we could pack a picnic lunch and spend the whole summer day hunting for arrowheads. We pretended to set off for a long journey across the prairie, in search of new lands to farm. Before the first hour was out, we were orphans searching for a family. Then we became rich explorers in search of the train to take us to our pot of gold. The stories changed, but one thing didn’t: I never found the arrowhead I was supposed to be looking for. My sisters found them, some perfect and amazing, but my head was too high in the clouds to remember to keep looking down. My pockets were filled with useless flint pieces at the end of the day, but my head filled with great memories of a fun time with my big sisters.
The big day finally came. Dad announced our two older sisters had to stay home, because — finally — this day belonged to the youngest three.I remember being giddy with suspense. What could it be? My sister had figured out it wasn’t a house, because you didn’t go shopping for a house. It seemed we drove forever, and then Dad turned in to the Schwinn bicycle shop. Like a beautiful car lot, there were sparkling bikes everywhere. For the first time in my life, I got to choose something brand new, not a hand-me-down from anyone. I remember the feeling, impossible to describe, with such amazingly keen emotion, it nearly paralyzed my senses.
There are photographs marking the day, back home in the driveway between the house and barn.My big sister Debi stands to my left with this sturdy green Schwinn, heavy as a Buick, with three gears and a little push-button horn that made it the coolest big-sister bike ever. The tires were enormous, the style sensible and timeless. She could have set off for the wheat fields of Nebraska with that thing. My little brother, five years younger than me, stands to my right with a shiny red bike, one to grow on. There stands the 8-year-old me, pixie haircut and a smile that never stops, standing taller than I had ever stood, with my royal blue, banana-seat, high handlebar, hot rod bike. I was blazin’ my own trails, and I just might pop some wheelies along life’s way. I was cool, if only because my new bike was. I had asked for a deep, white basket that was yet to come, in which my Pekingese side-kick Chippi Chan would ride miles and miles with me. I was well on my way to living large. I learned something in that experience. My sister, who had certainly earned work’s reward, was just a tiny bit let down, after sketching that big mansion with measured care, allowing for a certain number of windows and doors and all. I felt bad for her, all of that sketching ending up in the bottom of a shoe box for the future. I fell asleep that night thinking I was pretty big stuff with a sweet new bike that no one had ever sat on but me, and it sure beat the stuffings out of a new pair of hay-baling gloves.