Elizabeth’s father rescued an old damaged bicycle from the trash pile at
Stephens College and got it into usable condition. We rode it on their farm’s
trails. It was a direct drive style with no brake, and the pedals spun as fast
as the wheels. Going down hills we’d spread our feet out wide and let ’er
roll, hoping to land without crashing. ~It’s hard to describe the exhilaration
I felt on that bike. I was out of control, flying with wind in my face, and I
loved it! I determined, right then, that I had to have a bike of my own.
My brother’s bike was a used “Bearcat,” much too tall for me to straddle the
bar. I learned to ride it “standing up,” with my right leg stuck under the
bar so I could reach the pedal. It was a balancing act for sure, but I could
ride short distances that way.
I offered my savings, $1.75, and told Dad I’d work for nothing for the next
five years if he’d buy the bike I chose from the Sears and Roebuck “wish
book.” He’d have to sell a lot of milk to afford the $39.95 bike I wanted. I
wore the catalog pages to a ragged softness, looking at the pictures before he
finally told Mom to order the bike.
The day the big flat box arrived I was in seventh heaven! Mom said, “‘Some
assembly needed’ means that your dad has to put it together.” It was a
beautiful tan and beige bike with white pinstripes and fat tires.
None of us had ever seen a brand new bike before. I watched as Dad assembled
it in the dining room while Mom cleared the table after supper. When he
started to put on the pedals he got a strange look on his face. He attached
the one marked “R” for the right side and then picked up the other. Oops!
Both pedals were marked “R.” There was no pedal for the left side!
There stood my dream-come-true, with its shiny fenders, rims and kick stand --
but only one pedal. It would be at least a week before the wrong pedal could
be returned to Kansas City and the correct one shipped back to Columbia. This
was the most disappointing thing that had ever happened in all of my nine
I was able to sit on the seat and coast downhill using the hub brake, and
could ride with only one pedal by walking up the steep grades. Mom and Dad
approved my doing this on our half-mile long driveway. Soon I was pulling the
empty left crank around with my toe. Then I was a bird out of the nest, flying
on my own power. The disappointment was gone. This new mobility gave me
confidence and self-esteem. I felt that I could do anything anyone else could
do, if I tried. By the time the replacement pedal arrived I hardly needed it.
The next summer, 1924, I bicycled from home to the First Baptist Church in
Columbia to attend Bible School. Route WW was then “Fulton Gravel,” and it
was creek gravel hauled by farmers and graded occasionally by the Special Road
District crew. But I rode eight miles, five days a week, for two weeks.
In Bible School we studied the hymn “Oh Worship the King.” We made costumes
and dramatized the story of that song. Even today it reminds me of the freedom
and independence I enjoyed that summer.
At age 10 I realized that bicycling could enlarge my small world and make me
happier, for the rest of my life. And it did.
More about that on another Tuesday.