Traffic was backed up on my way to work one morning. I assumed it was road work, or worst case scenario, an accident. Yet, no one was directing traffic. There were no emergency vehicles.
Eventually, I saw what was holding all of us captive and jungle boys strains me late for work. It was a petite elderly man, who couldn’t have been any younger than 80 years old, riding a mountain bike. He was peddling slow but steady on the edge of the road. With unbelievably good posture and control, he was focusing intently on the road straight ahead as he grinned, revealing a few missing teeth. The knee pads he wore matched his elbow pads and helmet. Any frustration I had running behind schedule quickly melted. His joy was contagious!
I may never know his story, but even to imagine what it could be inspires me and nudges me back to my passion for creative thinking and creative writing. Here’s where my sense of wonder led me the moment I saw him:
As a boy, he loved to ride his red Schwinn bike. It took him everywhere around town with his friends – to the park, to the ball field, to the store for penny candy, to the back-roads where he and his friends became stunt-riders. Then there were the secret missions they imagined themselves on as war heroes on bikes, stirred up by the real war they were in the midst of – World War 2. Through all his time spent riding his bike, he proudly earned his new nickname, Schwinn.
Their bikes were dented and dinged as much as they scraped their knees or bruised their arms and legs during their adventures. But it all was okay as each scar, every bruise, every dent or ding came with a story that almost always drew crowds of neighborhood kids. Sometimes the stories were never shared but kept secret only between those who were part of it. If only the bike could talk!
As part of the war effort, he and his buddies, dressed in their Boy Scout uniforms, rigged up wagons to their bikes and went through town collecting scrap paper.
As the boy grew into a lanky teen, the bike settled into its resting place in the corner of the garage as the car became his new set of wheels, bringing with new opportunities for him as his buddies to venture even further. Every once in awhile, the boy would nod or say a quick “hey” as he passed by the bike, as if he was greeting an old friend.
A few years passed and the boy, now a young man, joined the military before he was drafted. The Korean War was underway. His car sat side by side the old bike. Helicopters and then his feet became this soldier’s transportation through the jungles of Korea. Unlike some of his close buddies on the warfront, he survived the opponent’s merciless advances and managed to escape physical injury. Yet, without a second thought, he grabbed the wounded one by one and carried them to safety, even those who wore another country’s uniform. To him, the only enemy he truly claimed to have was the enemy of the soul, satan himself.
One of the soldiers he saved was one of his childhood buddies. To keep his friend alert and focused until the medics arrived, he reminded him about their bike-riding adventures. The pain seared through his friend’s body as they laughed, recalling their secret boyhood missions, but it kept him alive at the most crucial time.
“Schwinn,” said his friend as he gasped through the words, “when we get back home, let’s get the old gang together and ride cross country on motorcycles.”
Without hesitation, Schwinn promised to make sure it would happen.
Three years later, Schwinn returned to his life at home. It took a long time before he was free from the discolored war echoes and was able to settle into a new norm. Setting aside his promise, he was content staying right where he was without venturing too far from home. His car barely moved from the garage other than to the grocery store, to church or to work. He was just thankful to be alive.
One spring, he met the one who would become his wife and mother of three children. Preparing to move his belongings from his parent’s home to his new home with his wife, he dug out his old bike buried under heaps of miscellaneous toys and unrealized treasured junk. The bike was much smaller than he remembered. It needed some work, so he got out his tools and began to restore it. A young boy next door watched him intently. The tools occasionally clinked on the cement floor of the garage in between changing worn or broken parts.