MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, August 24th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.
School is back in session, which means summer is officially over, no matter what the back porch thermometer says. And that has commentator Kim Henderson feeling a bit nostalgic.
KIM HENDERSON, COMMENTATOR: When I was a kid, summer was a sensory smorgasbord. It was the smell of wet pavement and the taste of tropical punch Kool-Aid. It was barefoot, and it lasted longer than summers do now.
I can remember summers when the white space of entire calendar months was left blank, except for five days of Bible School and a week-long vacation somewhere in the Ozarks. It was a magical left-alone time, and joined by friends in my subdivision, we made the most of it—on our bikes.
It was an iconic era for bicycles. Banana seats and high-rise handlebars ruled, and a two-wheel sensation called the Schwinn Sting-Ray caused many a 9-year-old to break the 10th Commandment. Dubbed as “the bike with the sports car look,” its ads encouraged young riders to accept no substitutes. I’m afraid in my case, we did. My family was more the Western Auto set.
No matter. We were all riding what would one day be retro and worth a lot of money. Too bad we put decals in places that forever ruined their resale value. Besides that, we wore our Western Flyers and Raleigh Choppers slap out, from their gravel-pelted chain guards to their missing handle grips. That’s because we rode them like Harleys, with an attitude to match, chasing heat-made mirages and memorizing the loose rock in every curve.
We flew past fields and entire soybean cycles, and witnessed the construction of a dozen ranch-style homes. All the while, we stayed true to our main task—keeping vigilant watch for the South Central Bell employee destined to bring an end to our four-way party line.
During those summers, my friends and I would pedal whole days away. Never once did we get called lazy (unless there were peas to shell). Ponytails flapped free in the breeze. “Look, no hands,” was a rite of passage.
Even so, we rough riders knew first-hand (and knee and elbow) that our greatest threat was actually a double one – road rash resulting from a nasty cocktail of tar and pea gravel, and the dabbing of Merthiolate that was sure to follow. Which was more painful would be hard to say.
Good as they were, those summers always came to an end, usually on a Saturday involving back-to-school shopping. Other things eventually ended, too. When I turned 12, I got a 10-speed for Christmas, a slick Sears model. It was then that gears started complicating biking and life started complicating the summer calendar. I suspect my fondness for two-wheeling met its real demise about the time I got a license to drive on four.
I eventually married a man who had two Peugeot racing bikes in his dorm room and a Schwinn Sting-Ray in his past. My 10-speed was left behind at the wedding altar, doomed to become word 22 of 25 in a garage sale ad. What became of my beloved banana seat bike is anybody’s guess.
And what has become of summer? Well, that’s a topic for another commentary.
I’m Kim Henderson.
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