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I want a pickle and bicycle

While my earliest commute by bicycle was an occasional ride to Grandma’s apartment the summer of my ninth year, it wasn’t until the sixth grade that I became a regular pedaller.
It came about because I hated school cafeteria food and much preferred going home for lunch. That was easy enough when I attended Sandburg Elementary just three blocks away, but it became impossible when redistricting sent me to Salk, almost a full mile from our house.
Mom and Dad never moved but I was sent to four different elementary schools because they kept building new ones in the growing suburb of Rolling Meadows.
When I was too little to walk or the weather too bad for a hike home, Mom always made me a brown bag lunch of a PB & J, a few chips and pickles, my life-long diet staple, which were wrapped in Saran. Plastic baggies were not in common use yet. While the sacked lunches were good, I much preferred heading home where I might get a grilled cheese, some extra attention from Mom and, best of all, almost unlimited access to the pickle jar.
Actually, sometime along the way Mom decided I was eating way too many gherkins and she began setting a limit. This was probably done more out of concern for the food budget than my health. My favorite was dill pickle chips, and my ration was as many as I could fit on the lid. With careful stacking, I could get a cup’s worth on but it was never enough. If I pleaded for more, Mom would let me drink the brine by dipping a fork into the jar and then lifting one drip at a time into my mouth. Using a spoon or sipping directly from the jar was considered uncouth and I was given the age old line of “when you have your own house you can do what you want” many times.
In fifth grade, I recall getting teased for bringing sack lunches and I succumbed to peer pressure and ate at the cafeteria once, but only once.
Sometimes I joke with Sabra, I remember every meal that I ever ate. If we’re talking about some past event and trying to figure out when it happened like a visit to her sister’s house, for example, I always say I can’t remember the year but do recall having a Rueben for lunch at the restaurant on the way there. “Remember, the kraut was homemade and extra good,” I’ll embellish. But, while I do make things up occasionally, I actually can associate important events in my life to what I ate that day.
I remember very clearly trying cafeteria food for the first time in the fifth grade. I chose the moment to cave to the pressure very carefully, and decided hamburger day was my best bet. How can you screw up a hamburger and fries? Famous last words. The miniscule meat patty was cooked to a crisp, the bun steamed soggy and, worst of all, no pickle was offered. And don’t even get me started on the fries and lack of ketchup.
That was it, it opened me up to more ridicule but I didn’t care. You can call me names or give me wedgies, but don’t get between me and the Heinz jar.
In sixth grade several important events came together: I got a new (well, newly refurbished used) bicycle for my birthday, until then I always had a bike but not necessarily one that fit me, and the school tacked on an extra fifteen minutes onto the lunch/recess period giving me a full hour to get home, eat and return.
Even with that, time was tight.
Most kids parked their bike willy-nilly in the rack front wheel first in the first open slot. I backed mine in to gain that split second edge and chose a spot closest to the door. After closing the combination lock, I’d dial in the first two numbers so I only had to give it one twist to get it open. Near lunchtime, I’d begin jockeying for a position near the head of the line and, at the bell, race for home as eagerly as any Armstrong wannabe. Mom did her part and had lunch ready to go as I hit the door.
Got to go now, I’m out of space. Besides, there’s some really good pickle juice in the refrigerator and I’m not using any old fork.