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Cycling, Grandma, Pepsi

My earliest bicycle commute was to Grandma’s.
Dad always kept a lookout for things my siblings and I might like while on his delivery route. The original American picker, he made sure we had things like baseball bats and balls. One of the most unique things Dad scored for me was the equipment to play goalie. The pads fit perfectly (well almost) and I had a budding career as the goalie for our neighborhood hockey team. There were bigger, older, better athletes– there even was one kid who could skate backwards– but only I had the equipment. This is a roundabout way of getting to the fact that I don’t remember the bike I rode, but I’m sure it was one Dad picked up and repaired.
Grandma and Grandpa Fleck lived about a mile from us. They moved out of the city (Chicago) and into the apartment to be near our house in the northwest suburb of Rolling Meadows. At the time of my ride I was pretty young, probably only 9 or 10, so even though the apartment was only a mile away it was quite the adventure.
One of the things I appreciate most about my parents is that they were the opposite of what is called a helicopter parent today. During the summer, we were pretty much shooed out of the house after breakfast and not to be seen again for the rest of the day except for lunch. If you made the mistake of pestering or even worse saying, “I’m bored,” you’d soon find yourself with some onerous job like ironing handkerchiefs. But with this benign neglect came an incredible amount of precious freedom. While other kids were told a million things they couldn’t do, we were told only “don’t get hurt, and if you do, don’t come crying home.”
Grandma, on the other hand, doted over us. She’d meet me at the door with a big smile and lots of praise for being strong, smart and handsome. First I’d help her with a few odd chores around the house like taking out the garbage. My favorite was counting the pennies in her vacation jar, marveling at the feel and richness of a few hundred pennies.
Then we’d play a game of cards, and I seemed to always win. Instead of pouting at her losses, she’d crow about having the cleverest grandson in the world. The highlight of the visit, however, was the bottle of Pepsi she had in the Frigidaire.
Soda was a rare treat in our household. If Mom was feeling flush at the end of the month she might throw a six-pack of RC in her basket, and then would dole the black nectar out to my siblings and I over the next week. On soda night the bottle would be opened with us watching as carefully as Swiss bankers. Mom would go to great effort to pour out three equal servings (sister Bonnie was too little for a share) but it was not always an easy task as we rarely had three matching glasses. Next a lottery would be held to determine who would get to pick a glass first. Years later I think I caught on to calculus quicker than most because I performed many of the same calculations in my mind deciding which glass had the most volume.
At Grandma’s I got my own bottle and I’d make the most of it. Instead of the cheaper RC, she’d stocked my favorite then and today: Pepsi. After pouring it over ice the first few minutes were devoted to enjoying the tickle caused by the fizz as you held your nose a fraction of an inch from the surface. No sommelier ever enjoyed a fine wine more. Sipping was an exercise in restraint; rapture needed slow cherishing.
Then it was time to hitch up my pants and head out to dig tiger traps, build Indian sweat lodges, skinny dip in the old quarry or play an endless game of pickup softball out in the street.
I don’t drink much soda nowadays; high fructose corn syrup is not a good bet for an overweight 62-year-old with gout. But when I do, I drink Pepsi.
I still get out for a bike ride and get into crazy projects like building potato cannons, however, and I encourage any reader to do the same. Just remember, if you get hurt, don’t come crying to me.