The prompt picture I’ve chosen from Sepia Saturday for September is an illustration on the cover of a book called “Warne’s Useful Books – The Modern Bicycle.” It is Sepia’s number 383 which is out of sync with my ending 2016 Sepia Saturday numbering. I chose it for December because of the bicycle. I have some photos of family members with bicycles and a story to share with you.
First up is my grandmother, Etta (Pauw) Westra with her adult tricycle in St. Petersburg, Florida. My grandparents were snowbirds for the longest time. They would pack up everything in the car in the fall and make the 2-day drive south. They would return at the end of April, just before my birthday in May. Etta posed outside their mobile home and in front of their much traveled grey sedan. I love that Grandpa Westra even brought down one of his windmills to pep up their yard there. This was taken in sometime in the late 1970s.
Another interesting photo featuring a bicycle is one of my great-grandfather Jan Minnes Westra. I just love the height of this bicycle. It really looks to big for him but he’s ready to go in his overcoat and cap. The photo was taken in Germany but I’m unsure of the year.
Another one is also on the maternal side of the family. This was taken in Germany in 1959 and the back of the photo says that the boys are named Klaus (2 1/2 years old) and Gerhard (4 1/2 years old). The bicycles have a unique style and the kids look ready to enjoy the sunshine. I’m not sure how but the boys are related to Martha Ewoldine (Pauw) Saathoff who was my grandmother Etta’s sister.
My sisters and I grew up with Schwinn bicycles. Jill got her photo printed in the local newspaper in April of 1979 with her bicycle. The caption to the photo was a long was and was this:
Bicycles are checked as part of the Bicycle Rodeo sponsored by Newton Girl Scout Troop 945, in cooperation with the Sussex County Extension Service and parents. The program was part of the requirements for the cyclist badge. Some events included inspection, straight-line riding, intersections, slow riding, figure 8 and zig-zagging between cans. All participants received certificates and prizes wen to the four top scorers, Laura Leach, Susan Wildrick, Kristen Kearney and Charlene Keirnan. Scout Jill Strait’s bike is inspected by Randy Yonkers, center, with the 4-H program, and Bruce Harabes, a Scout parent.
And last but not least is a bicycle related story from May of 2013 that I wrote for the Storytellers writing group that I was in at the time. Enjoy!
My Bike: My Friend, My Attacker
While listening to a radio program in early May of 2013, I learned that someone I’d never heard of before had passed away. The article was about Al Fritz, 88, who died in Chicago, Illinois, on May 9, 2013 of complications from a stroke he had suffered a few weeks earlier. During the article, it became clear to me that this man was a great influence on my early childhood. How could a man I’d never met be such an important part of my memories?
Mr. Fritz, it turns out, was the inventor of a Schwinn bicycle model called the Stingray. For those like me growing up in the 1970s, the Stingray was the be-all, end-all of cool bicycles. It had big, swoopy handlebars, a banana seat, fat tires and sleek lines. Even the name was cool!
I remember the trip to the Schwinn bicycle shop in Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey, when my parents decided to buy my two younger sisters and me new bikes. The shop was full of bicycles of all sorts, gleaming with chrome and flawless paint jobs. My parents chose a standard bike decked out in brown but we girls knew the Stingray was what we wanted as soon as we laid eyes on it. Questions swirled through our heads. What color was the best? Did we need a basket? Fenders or no fenders? Could we have streamers on the grips? I finally settled on a purple bike with a white sparkle-infused seat, streamers for the grips, a white basket to hang from the handlebars, and shiny chrome fenders. For safety, all three sisters got fluorescent orange flags on a long fiberglass pole which was attached to the back wheel and flappity-flap flapped in the wind.
I considered that bike a dear friend and it went everywhere with me in the neighborhood. It made frequent trips to my best friend Patty Clark’s house just down the street. After dinner during the summer months, our whole family would set out to tour the streets around Merriam Avenue. We stopped to talk to neighbors, we noticed new additions, and we occasionally raced down the long hill on Gardner Ave at breakneck speeds. Never mind the fact that none of us wore helmets, elbow pads or knee protectors. When you fell off, you took your lumps!
While it was my companion, my bike also attacked me on occasion. One of the fashion trends of the 1970s was plaid pants with bell bottoms. The plaid didn’t matter but the bell bottoms did. Pants like that and bicycle chains don’t play well together. One afternoon, I was riding in the backyard when my pant leg got entwined in the chain despite the chain guard. The more I moved the pedals, the tighter the pant leg got around my ankle. I was trapped. I couldn’t get off and I couldn’t pedal. So I did the only sensible thing I could think of. “HELP! Someone! Please HELP!” My father’s construction workshop was on the spare lot next to our house and one of his helpers came my rescue. It took him almost 15 minutes to unwind the fabric from the chain and free me. The pants were ruined and I was very embarrassed but the bike still worked just fine.
Another attack occurred at the parking lot of my grammar school. We were out for a family ride and for some since-forgotten reason I was throwing a hissy fit. My mom and sisters had pedaled off around the back side of the school. I was left to decide whether to follow or turn around and go home by myself. I chose to follow them but I had some ground to make up. I thought the easiest way was to just jump the curb and use the sidewalk. It stood to reason that if I got up enough speed, the front wheel of my swoopy handle-barred bike would just climb smoothly right over the curb. Not so. Physics intervened. The bike’s front wheel hit the curb, the bike stopped dead, and the handle bar smacked me squarely in the left eye. I ended up with such a lump and shiner that I wore a gauze patch to school for a week during 3rd grade while it healed.
I had put many miles on that Stingray bicycle pedaling all over Newton. Then things began to change as summers came and went. Playmates and sisters grew up. Neighbors moved away. My parents got divorced. My childhood home got sold and my mom moved into an apartment with no room for bikes. It was time to give up my beloved Stingray.
While the bike is long gone, I am forever grateful to a man I’ve never met named Al Fritz who designed a Schwinn bicycle that was a huge part of so many of my cherished childhood memories.