When my brother and I were kids in the early 1960s in Edgartown, Massachusetts, having a bicycle of one’s own and learning how to ride it were major life goals.
How we craved the freedom a bicycle represented, the physical sensation of freedom! Riding a bike would be the closest we could get to flying. (Our attempts to use an umbrella to fly off the patio wall like Mary Poppins had ended in failure, and we were too fearful to attempt jumping off the roof of the garage, like a certain neighbor boy of legend.)
Our parents didn’t have the money to buy us new bicycles, but our father managed to find two used ones for $5.00 apiece, a blue one for me and a red one for George.
When it came to learning how to ride a bicycle, Daddy was philosophically opposed to training wheels. They fostered an unhealthy dependence, he believed, on a crutch that actually delayed the development of the skill, in addition to making a simple process unnecessarily complicated.
So Daddy taught us how to ride our bikes the old-fashioned way. He grabbed hold of the seat and ran, yelling, “Pedal your feet, pedal your feet!” Then once we got going, he let go. Wobble, wobble, crash! Wobble, wobble, crash! Wobble, wobble, wobble–look at me, I’m riding my bike!
Speaking of bicycles and childhood, one of my all-time favorite poems includes a bicycle as a metaphor for the fleeting nature of childhood. “On Turning Ten” is by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. I hope you’ll give it a read!
This is my brother George in 1968 with the time machine he built out of a cardboard box and green poster paint. Tell me, George, just where did you think that cardboard box was going to take you, and how were you proposing to get back?
The Rev. Elliott F. Gauffreau is the man in the middle.
These photographs show a youth group outing my father led when he was curate at All Saint’s Episcopal Church in Attleboro, Massachusetts from 1959-1961. However, the story is what you don’t see in the photographs: my brother George and me waiting in the car.
Daddy had brought us along for the picnic, and when it came time to pack up the picnic gear and distribute the youth group kids among the various vehicles, he walked us to the parking lot to wait for him in the car (presumably so we wouldn’t be in the way).
Being moderately obedient children, we didn’t object and waited patiently in the car–for all of about three minutes–until boredom set in. When was Daddy coming? Why didn’t he come? What could be taking him so long?
I don’t remember which one of us dared the other to honk the horn. I won’t blame this one on George; it was probably me. Honking the horn was something that WAS NOT DONE in our family. Why? Because like everything else in the adult world, THE HORN IS NOT A TOY. I think the Boy Who Cried Wolf was brought into these discussions as well.
Of course Daddy came back to the car to tell us to stop or we’d wear down the battery. So we stopped–until we started again.
When it came time to leave–yes, you guessed it–we’d killed the battery, and the car wouldn’t start. After discussion among the male members of the group, it was decided to try and jump start it. (Luckily, the parking lot was at the top of a hill.)
Daddy put the car in neutral, the boys pushed the car to get it moving, and off we rolled down the hill. Daddy popped the clutch, the engine caught, and George and I shrieked with delight at this exciting new way of starting the family car–and why didn’t Daddy start it that way all the time? It’s a testament to the kind of father he was when he pointed out quite logically that the car would not always be parked on a hill with a group of boys at the ready to push it.
One of my earliest memories is of the time my family lived in Coventry, Rhode Island. The day I’m remembering would have happened in 1958, about a year after this picture of my baby brother and me was taken.
Once George had grown out of infancy, he was a mischievous little fellow, and one day he somehow locked himself in the house’s one bathroom, which I discovered when I couldn’t get the door open.
I yelled for my mother because I had to go, and she stood outside the door and tried to explain to George how to turn the lever below the doorknob. She must have thought that since his stubby little fingers had managed to lock it, his stubby little fingers should be able to unlock it.
Nothing but a stream of giggles came from behind the locked door. At that point, I was shrieking because I HAD TO GO, and my mother went next door to get help in the form of a neighbor’s young son, who wriggled through the bathroom window and unlocked the door.
Liz & The Little Neighbor Boy Who Saved the Day
This angelic portrait of my brother George and me, taken around 1960, was our father’s favorite of the two of us. It held the place of honor on the desk in his study long after George and I were grown.
I remember it took the photographer a while to get George to stop crying; he finally gave in to the distraction of a squeaky toy. I was most concerned about the cut of my bangs.