The Uphill Slide

There is always something.

A Little Kindness

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The newly blacktopped parking lot for the trail at the Waterfront was parked to overcapacity yesterday afternoon. Bikers and hikers passed by on the trail in a steady stream in both directions.

As a girl I rode my bike through the streets and alleys of my small western Pennsylvania town. My bike would be retro now. There were no shifting gears or hand brakes; our bodies did all the hard work of pedaling and pumping up hills. The bike was heavy and bulky balancing on wide tires that sported gray rusting fenders on the front and back. One spring afternoon, I was riding down the alley that ran between the backyards of houses on Main Street to my left and Ross Street to my right. I was within spitting distance of my house. The sweat ran into my eyes and down my back. I stopped to take off my jacket just as I turned into the alley. I wrapped the jacket around the back fender. Before long, the pedals became stiffer and harder to pump. I looked behind me and saw my jacket had caught in the spokes and was wrapping tighter and tighter around the wheel with each rotation. I stopped and hit the kickstand with my foot. I began to tug at the jacket and cried as I worked to unwind the jacket and pull it out between the spokes. The jacket belonged to my father, but I liked to wear it. It was short and tan with a zipper, pockets, a collar and sleeves that hung loosely around the wrists. It was smooth and satiny to the touch, and it draped like rayon. I was crying harder and harder because I could not get the jacket away from that tire. Pushing my bike home would only continue to wrap it tight as a noose. Was I crying because I loved that jacket or because I thought my father would be mad? When my mother was mad at me, I shrugged it off and sometimes even laughed; but when my father was mad at me, I would start crying immediately as I desperately tried to choke back the tears.

As I tugged and cried, a man walked up to the alley from his yard where he had been working in his garden. He unwound the jacket from that tire, and I rode off. His help and kindness held a tiny nook in my memories of childhood. I wonder if this brief encounter with a child held any spot in his memory. I wonder why I never asked if he remembered it. I had many opportunities to ask him because about fifteen years after that day, that man became my father-in-law.

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