Readers of my column in the San Francisco Chronicle may feel as if they know my family and friends due to frequent references. Which, as you can imagine, has made my loved ones a little paranoid about what they do and say in my presence. C’mon guys. As if (snort) I’d ever really rat you out.
But in honor of Mother’s Day, the following tale is a fitting tribute to my Mom. At least I think so, given the great restraint she showed when she chose not to off me back in 1969.
That was when Mom thought it might be nice if she started joining me and my younger sister on our after-dinner bike rides. And so, with 8-year old Jenny on her Stingray bike and me on my brand new yellow Schwinn, my Colombian mother hopped aboard my old bike. Never mind that the last time she’d put her pedal to the metal, she was a tyke living in South America and her sole method of transportation was a tricycle. How difficult could this bike business be? And she was right: with a few tips from me, her cycling skills quickly returned as we took flight, roaming throughout our suburban neighborhood, around blocks, through parks and up hills. It was great.
That is, until we got to the downhill part.
Of course, Jenny and I loved going downhill, the ultimate payoff for all that uphill huffing and puffing. We whooped with delight as our bikes picked up speed and our pigtails sailed in the breeze, going faster, faster, faster. Mom, however, wasn’t quite so enthralled.
“I’m going too fast,” she shouted nervously. “How do I stop?”
“Use the brakes,” I yelled back.
“I am,” she hollered, her accent thickening as it did whenever she was stressed or panicked. Like now. “Ay, caramba, they dun’t work!” And then I noticed that she was pedaling backwards – she thought the bike had foot brakes. She didn’t know that bikes today had handbrakes.
Uh oh. Maybe I hadn’t shared this minor detail?
“Handbrakes, handbrakes!” I tried bellowing, but to no avail: my words were lost in her screams as she whizzed past me, frantically pedaling backwards. And then, I watched in stunned disbelief as she slammed into the back of a parked Chevrolet, noting that for one brief comical second, she looked like Superman with a beehive hairdo, taking flight over the car roof with her arms stretched before her to break her fall. She crashed with a sickening thud on the asphalt in front of the fender, and for a panicked moment I feared she was dead. But she wasn’t. Just banged up.
And mad. Really, really mad. At me. Okay, maybe I did forget to mention the handbrakes.
It was this anger that fueled her ability to walk home with a broken knee, chipped chin and cracked elbow. During the mile-long walk, she would occasionally glare at me, all the while mumbling in a steady stream of Spanish that I’m pretty sure didn’t translate as, “Whoohoo, let’s do THAT again!”
But decades later, the very fact that I’m here to tell this tale is a testimony to my mother’s infinite ability to love, forgive and forget.
That her subsequent crutches and casts impaired her ability to catch me had nothing to do with my survival. I think.