Monday, November 21, 2005

The Yellow Bicycle

For some reason, all the neighborhood kids from the lower end of Clifford Street used to congregate in the front yard of my house in the summer months. I was one of the oldest kids on my street, which usually meant that you served as the 'matriarch' for our half of the block, until you moved away or went to college, when the next group of older kids would take over. This didn't mean much, but the kids would always want to know what you were doing, if you could come outside to play, and they'd look to you for something to do. With regularity, I'd drag the picnic table from the back to the front yard, and all of us kids would meet there and figure out what we were going to do on that particular day. Usually, it was something like selling kool-aid or lemonade, or if it was the end of the summer, we'd sell zucchini from my parent's garden to whoever was interested (usually just the mailman and the sweet retired woman, Gladys, across the street).

On one warm sunny day, a group of us including my lifelong friend from 'up the street' were standing around the picnic table and none of us had yet come up with a good activity for the afternoon, when we noticed an African American man about 18 years old, coming down Harrison Street on his yellow 10-speed bicycle - he was riding with no hands. Now, riding with no hands in our neighborhood was not a particularly impressive feat. It took some practice to learn how to shift the weight in your body to make the turns, but once you had it down, it didn't seem like anything to brag about - it was just something that you learned to do.

I don't know why we all noticed him at the same time - but I know that we were all thinking the same thing. We knew these streets and we knew exactly how to manage taking the corner from Harrison onto Clifford Street with no hands. First of all - he was going way too fast to negotiate the corner without slowing down to compensate - and because of this, he was taking the turn way too wide. We'd all stopped talking at this point and just stood and watched it unfold because there was nothing we could do for him and it seemed like it would be stating the obvious to tell him there was no way he was going to make that turn. All that was left for us to do was to hope he could he pull this off. He didn't seem too concerned until the last minute when, with his beautiful afro standing back against the wind, his wide turn took him straight for the curb and his front tire hit, throwing him over the handlebars where he flew with his arms and legs outstretched like superman, onto the patch of grass between the sidewalk and the street where we were standing. We must have all been holding our breath because I felt a collective sigh of relief when the man stood up, looked at us and laughed an embarassed laugh, brushed himself off and got back on his bike. Because he was okay, we all started to laugh with him as he rode away up the street- partly from relief that he was okay, and mostly because it looked really funny.

Being a young kid, making myself look stupid in front of other people seemed like the end of the world - and when it did happen to me, I was likely to do or say something even more stupid to cover up my embarrassment. Aside from the visual image of this event which makes me suppress a snicker every time I think of it, what I remember most about the man on the bicycle was that he just stood up, laughed at himself, got back on his bike and rode away, and there was a beautiful lesson in that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Welcome to Warm Earth Writings!

Welcome to my blog, Warm Earth Writings!

Envisioned as a space for Palouse area-related essays, memoirs, community information and maybe some conversation, this blog will begin as a reflection of one person's experience of growing up on the beautiful Palouse - and leaving it after 25 years.

It's my hope that this space will evolve into a virtual coffeehouse in the spirit of the former Combine Mall in downtown Pullman where Palouse friends and neighbors gathered for conversation, local art and music, and community. If you have any Palouse-related essays, reflections, links, photos, artwork, or information that you'd like me to post on this blog, please send them my way for consideration! Contact Me!

So, if you're a Palouse region expatriate, alumnus, current resident, or someone who wants to learn about the small town experience of the Palouse, grab your cup of coffee or tea and watch this space grow.

Photograph Credit: Jodene Eikenberry