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Lavender Bicycle Blues

August 8, 2013

Lavender Bicycle Blues

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Throughout the years that I worked with sight-loss support groups and worked as a teacher of blind rehabilitation, I frequently heard from students who were adventitiously blind that they most missed driving. While I could certainly empathize with these adult students, I never had pains of missing driving—I missed being able to ride my bicycle freely. Yes, I did ride my bicycle long past those early stages of legal blindness and a little past the times I was using my bike more like a bumper car. Of course, I later learned of special beeping devices which allow a blind or visually impaired person to continue bicycling. Certainly, I could take the back seat of a tandem bicycle. However, bicycling in these ways is not for me. I do enough back-seat driving in a car. I miss the free-spirit transportation of bicycling. Bicycling in the midst of a budding spring, bicycling on a hot summer morning or evening, and bicycling through the autumnal countryside were pleasures of my earlier life.

When I was six or seven years of age, I learned to ride a blue hand-me-down bike of my older sister; the glorious invention had two relatively fat tires and two training wheels. The bright red flag of growing up continued to proudly wave when I tried to ride the blue bike without the training wheels. Naturally, my dad was alongside to help me find a balancing point and to give me a boost for a good start in the rich green grass of our east lawn. I recall a time when my dad’s older brother, Uncle Charlie, was standing in the lawn and also offering words of encouragement, as well as clapping to applaud my feat.

Gradually, I progressed from riding the blue bicycle in the lawn to riding on our white-rock driveway and then to riding on the rural roads of my hometown of Blanford. Later, I even rode on Highway 163 and Highway 71 past the Black Diamond Coal Mine’s tipple, to the “Iron Bridge” (located between the small towns of Blanford and St. Bernice, Indiana). Nevertheless, my most memorable ride was on July 29, 1959, shortly after my ninth birthday. The pleasant summer evening was temporarily a Norman-Rockwell-painted scene with my older sister riding her bike a few yards in front of me and my parents walking several yards behind us. When we were very near our driveway, I suddenly lost control of my bicycle in a little gravel alongside the country road. Quickly, I was down: my eyeglasses were askew, and blood was flowing from a gash through my left eyebrow. Perhaps, I was in and out of consciousness for a couple of minutes because I next remember being in the back of our house. While my dad stayed outwardly calm, my mother became hysterical as she looked at my blood-covered face and swelling eye. Fortunately, my mother’s older sister, Aunt Zita, had been following us in her big,
black and white Buick. Next came the funniest moment of the incident: my aunt threw a pitcher of cold water onto my mother to help calm her down. Apparently, the cold-water trick worked because I next recall that we were in our car, on the way to the emergency room of the Vermillion County Hospital. At the time, I was wearing a favorite blouse and short set and distinctly remember being concerned about the blood on my favorite summer outfit. Many years later, my sister confessed to me that she prayed all the way to the hospital because she thought I was going to die.

Well, I did not die. I needed only ten stitches through my eyebrow, a new pair of glasses, and a night in the hospital for observation. However, I was not planning to stay even one night in the Vermillion County Hospital! Somehow, I, at age nine, began my
not-so-subtle art of persuasion: I convinced my parents and the doctor that I should be able to go home. Before my family and I left the hospital, Dr. Loving bestowed his calm and slowly-spoken words of advice. Then, with much love, my parents took me home, put me to bed, and watched me throughout that night. Then, they continued to hover over me the following day and for days to come. July rolled into August, but I never went outside. My eye had swollen shut and required a salve of some sort. Relatives came to quietly visit. My Aunt Kathy even brought me a very special set of Sleeping Beauty
cut-out dolls. I continued to stay inside the protected confines of our home.

Finally, after too many days had passed, my mother expressed her concern about my not recuperating quickly enough to her older sister—the cold-water-pitching sister. Aunt Zita to the rescue again! Since her Italian restaurant was closed for a couple of vacation weeks in August at that time, Aunt Zita came to our house and emphatically informed my mother: “Janie just needs to get outside.” So, I put on a nice gray and red plaid dress and went outside and recuperated.

Soon after, much to my parents’ dismay, I returned to riding the slightly scratched blue bike. Just like falling off a horse, one has to ride again. After such a fall,
my re-dedicating to bicycling was a lesson which has served me extremely well from that first decade of life through the subsequent decades of my life. Pick up the pieces and try again. Cope and conquer.

A couple of years later, my dad presented me with a beautiful and unique lavender and white bicycle for my birthday. How I loved riding that lavender and white bicycle! I rode it until I was in my early thirties and would still like to ride it through a Hoosier breeze, alongside a peaceful country road.

Post-Script: Although my sister and I took on the sad task of going through all the possessions in our family home and then sold our Blanford house, the lavender and white bicycle lives on—thanks to cousins Carole and Tim who drove a U-Haul truck full of our family’s memorabilia to Colorado, where my bike has been parked in the barn of my sister and brother-in-law for more than a decade. Perhaps, one of my grandnieces (Emmilyn Alice or Lanie Ann) will ride my lavender and white bicycle someday.

Happy summer biking!

August 7, 2013, Wednesday


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  1. Those first bikes are such important pieces of our development and you captured that so well. I shared some pieces of your writing with Jack; he commented on his remembrance of what that feeling of losing control in the roadside shoulder was like. What a special memory.

  2. I think we were actually taking a big risk on the highway, but it was fun. I love the story about Aunt Zita and the water. : )
    Oh, I totally forgot about that being in the U-Haul. That will be perfect for them.

  3. Well, I’m thankful that my prayers were answered and that you did not die. You can ride the lavender bike in our barnyard anytime you come to visit us.
    With love and thanks for sharing this memorable experience,

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