Sunday, June 12, 2011

Connecting to Roots Through Cycling

Aunt Anna Belle's Bike with a kitten on the saddle, around 1917-20
Jefferson Street, Kerrville (The house across the street is where the Presbyterian Church now stands.)
 With the morning commute to and from work figured out and getting easier each day, I am now biking to work more than I am driving. The morning rides are lovely and something I look forward to each day. The hotter evening rides are more tolerable, too. I actually pined for Nora (my bike) the morning I overslept and had to drive to the office.

I avoid the busier streets and travel residential streets on my bike commutes for two reasons: 1.  It keeps me out of the way of the morning drivers who are in a hurry and 2. I observe life in Kerrville from a different perspective.  There are things you miss when you drive by in a car:  A lady in a big, floppy hat tending her garden; a couple enjoying coffee and a cool morning on the front porch; cats lounging under a shade tree, an exotic looking crane soaking it's feet in Quinlan Creek; ravens chasing a redtailed hawk across the sky; neighbors visiting over a fence; the progress of a house remodeling; etc.  An added bonus is the slower pace gives me a chance to study the older houses along the route (I love looking at old buildings and wondering about their history).

Most of my route takes me down Jefferson Street, past where my grandparents' home once stood.  The beautiful, rambling house was demolished (or moved off site) in the early 80s and replaced by a squatty, pebble-covered office building. Many of the trees that used to dapple the house with cooling shade still remain on the property.  Whenever I pass this spot on Jefferson Street, I pay mental homage to my family and am grateful my ancestors settled in Kerr County and that my mom brought us back here when we were kids.  (I really do love this part of the world.)

Lately I've been revisiting old family albums. I go through them from time to time as part of my genealogy and local history work. Even though I've been through the old images a thousand times, I notice something new or discover an unexpected relevance each time I look at them. The latest batch of photos that grabbed my attention are pictures of my relatives with bikes at 829 Jefferson Street, Kerrville, Texas (the former site of my grandparents' home).

Unknown boy, Lucile McCoy, Ruth McCoy and Anna Belle Council
(Notice the bikes and the camera!)
Unknown Boy and Anna Belle with Bikes
Anna Belle and cat with bike

My mom and grandfather the day my mom got her first bike - a bright blue Schwinn
Taken about 1946.  She looks so happy and proud of her new bike!
I spent most of my youth in mid-western towns in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Illinois.  My dad was in advertising and my experience is that men in that profession move around the country like the military.  My elementary and jr. high school years were spent in towns where I had no sense of belonging or roots. (Being raised by southern parents with southern manners and values also makes you a bit of an oddity in the northern states.) Relatives were people who lived far away and showered us with love when we'd visit on summer breaks and the occasional Christmas.

I am not saying I had an unhappy childhood or that I was lacking anything important developmentally. My nomadic childhood gave me some wonderful experiences (and friends) and gave me a unique appreciation for this town and things that others may take for granted.

After my mom brought us back to the Texas Hill Country during my high school years I began to realize a sense of belonging and personal history that I never had before.  It started when I discovered some of the kids in my classes were children of people my mom went to school with!  That might not be a big deal to many people, but it was a huge deal for me.

The latest thing to give me that sense of being connected to Kerrville was finding these photos.  I am riding my bike on a street where relatives as far back as 1917 have ridden their bikes! I recently learned that my Aunt Debbie also rode her bike on this same street in Kerrville during the '60s and '70s when she'd come down from San Antonio for a visit. Pretty cool!

Those are my musings on this June morning. I am feeling happy and blessed these days and know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. 

As an aside: I am enjoying this lifestlye change so much that I am considering trips to the grocery store on my bike!

Have a beautiful week!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bicycle Fever

Nora in the galleries after our first trip to work
Commuting to work by bike is a lot easier than I thought it would be. My first commute on Friday was a breeze. The morning trip into work lifted my spirits and left me with a sense of empowerment. I met one other cyclist on the way, who seemed surprised to see me. (Kerrville is not known as a cycling town.) The ride home was hot (100+ degree heat) but I made it home in less than 15 minutes and even made it up the hill on East Main without having to get off and walk (although I could have walked it faster).

Day two gave me another beautiful morning commute. The ride home, however, was another story. Saturday was crazy-busy at work. One of the biggest shows of the year, as well as the other three exhibits in the gallery, had its opening reception and it was an exhausting, high-energy day. After the day was over, I changed from my fancy reception clothes into shorts and a tank top and rose to the challenge. The weather was blazing hot! 106 degrees!!

I decided to go around the hill on Main Street and made a tactical error that put me on course to face an even bigger hill. Crap!! I pedaled hard to gain momentum before the hill and made it halfway up before I had to get off and walk Nora to the top. Honestly, I thought I was going to die from heat stroke!! Luckily, I had some chilled water in my basket, rested for about a minute and gulped it down before hopping back on the saddle and coasting downhill the rest of the way home. (Fortunately, what goes up, must come down!) I collapsed in a heap of sweat and quivering muscles when I got home.

After my third commute, I think I finally have the right route home figured out. The morning ride was as beautiful as ever: Cool morning breezes, waving hello to people I see along the way, and considerate Kerrville motorists. On the way home I found a route south of the hill that gives me a gradual climb around the Main Street incline that only takes me a block out of the way. I was home in about 10 minutes. Eventually my legs will be strong enough to conquer the hill, but right now I'd rather take it easy.

All in all, I am very proud of myself for what I've accomplished in a fairly short time. In the process I've become a cycle enthusiast (I did not need another hobby, but am embracing this new interest all the same). I am already planning my next bike restoration and frequently read bicycle blogs and classic bike listings on Craigslist and Ebay.

My husband, who also loved biking when he was younger and commuted by bike regularly when he lived in Japan, has caught the fever and we found him a beautiful 1972 Raleigh Sport that only needs a new saddle and tires before its ready to ride.
Nora and Ivy (my next project) welcome Norman Clegg to the herd.
When I asked my husband what he was going to name his bike, he said: "I don't name machines." So I am referring to this proper English bike as Norman Clegg (with Larry's blessing - he humors me). This beautiful, dignified bike demands both a first and last name with British roots. After we brought the bike home, I spent a long time studying the amazing artistry that was put into building Norman's steel lugged frame.

For those who are wondering, my bike names are character names from a British comedy that my husband and I both enjoy (bikes like Larry's are often part of the story line on the show).  The show is "Last of the Summer Wine" and it was the longest-running sitcom in history.  The show ran from 1973-2010 and is a refreshing, upbeat alternative to what the media in the US considers "entertainment."

Clegg, Compo and Blamire from
Last of the Summer Wine

Tires and tubes have been ordered for Norman Clegg and Larry and I are hoping to enjoy a ride together soon.

One of the things I enjoy most about this new interest in biking is that it has given Larry and I more together time. In the past, I'd get home after work and do something by myself while he worked out in either the woodworking or metal shop until dinner time. Now when I come home from work, we visit in the shop a bit, discuss bikes or I change into my scruffy clothes and we work together on a project. It has been a lot of fun.

Until next time.....