One October when I was living in Madison, I agreed to housesit for some friends who were headed out of town for the weekend. This job included watching their dog Raggy.
Raggy was a black curly-haired poodle mix with a sunny personality and joyful demeanor. We’d always been able to get along well. She was such a mellow dog.
But not as mellow as I’d assumed, having only visited with her prior to that weekend, never having lived with her for an extended period of time. I did not know that Raggy, always a house dog, really yearned to be a wild dog.
I stepped outside, about 7:00 at night, for a smoke. At that time of year, the sun has been down for hours. I’d guess the temperature to have been somewhere in the 40s.
After field stripping my cigarette, I casually opened the front door to step back into the toasty confines of the house. As I did, I discovered how quick and slippery this wild dog wannabe could be.
Recognizing what was happening, I grabbed for her collar, but Raggy was too fast, and my last ditch grab for her tail proved useless, as her glossy black hair allowed her to slip quite literally through my fingers.
The chase was on. The escapee sat on the sidewalk looking at me.
“Raggy,” I said nicely, but with just the right touch of sternness, “come here.” I inched closer and happy Raggy stood up and bounded down the sidewalk to the intersection with the next cross street. This was a fairly quiet residential neighborhood, so there was little traffic to worry about. Still, I did not want Raggy running loose in the steet.
“Raggy,” I said, in the same tone, but with a touch of worry creeping into the mix, “come here.”
I approached slowly again. When I was within three feet or so, Raggy up and ran across the street. Sitting down on the opposite corner, she stuck out her tongue, panting I choose to believe, rather than mocking me.
Looking both ways for cars, just in case, I walked in unhurried, measured steps toward her. Again, just as I came within striking distance, Raggy stood up and tore off down the street to the next block, across the street, and disappeared around the corner.
By the time I ran to the intersection, my breath was coming out in great clouds of steam. Raggy sat at the next corner down, apparently looking for me to run after her. She appeared to be toying with me now.
So as not to alarm the entire neighborhood, I quietly hissed out, “Raggy! Come. Here.”
It was at this point, after having tried this command again with zero effect, that I realized she had probably never heard those words before.
Raggy was up and gone down the street in a flash. This time, when I reached the intersection and looked down the street in the direction she’s headed, I saw not a trace of her.
Now I was alarmed. I would never be able to live with myself if I had to tell my friends I’d lost their dog.
I thought quickly. Having no car, I would not be able to drive around searching for her. But, yes, my friends had bicycles in their garage. I knew how to ride a bike, although it had been some 20 years ago.
I ran back to the house and selected the bike that fit my leg length best, then headed back out on the road. For what seemed like hours, but was probably no more than 30 minutes, I cycled the streets, up one, down the other, calling out, as quietly as possible for Raggie. Interestingly, I was quite enjoying the exercise now. Why had I ever given up riding a bicycle?
But let’s not forget about Raggie. I was worried, definitely. What should I do? Call the Humane Society, the Police, what?
I rode the bike back to the house. Right as I entered the driveway, I saw the neighbor kid, maybe twelve years old, out walking his dog.
“Hey,” he called to me. “Cold night for a bike ride.”
I agreed. “David,” I said, “I am worried. Raggie got out of the house and ran away. I’ve been all over looking. I can’t find her.”
At which he broke out laughing. “Don’t worry. She runs away all the time. She’ll be back. She always comes back.”
“Yeah, they just wait for her.”
Several hours passed. Every ten minutes or so I’d open the front door to see if the wayward Raggy had retuned. It was past midnight when I opened the door yet again, and there sat a happy looking Raggy.
I have rarely been so relieved about anything in my life. She sauntered into the house, headed for her water bowl, lapped a few tonguefulls, then headed over to her frilly little bed. Flopping down, she promptly went to sleep.
How innocent and homebound she looked there, slumbering so peacefully. But I knew what was running through her head. She was bounding around Madison, free as free could be, my chasing her, panting, begging, pleading, but no one could stop the game except she.
I finally fell asleep, but was up early because I kept dreaming she’d escaped again.
The next morning, when I stepped outside into the brisk Madison weather, coffee and cigarette in hand, I sat down on the stoop and watched the last of the leaves whip down the street.
David passed by again, walking his dog. “Did Raggy come back?”
“Oh yes, thanks,” I said.
“Haha. I told you. Hey. This is a good day to bike,” he said as he walked off.
Hmmm, I thought, it might indeed be a great day for a bike ride. The night before had been the first time I’d ridden a bicycle since I was maybe in 8th-Grade. My neighborhood gang were growing too old then to bike around together, what with other more adult extracurricular activities at our various schools taking priority.
I remember I’d gone down into Pauoa. I had a very cool metallic blue stingray bike with a high white diamond back bar. I’d even installed a speedometer so I could see how fast I sped down my hill into the valley.
There is restroom at Pauoa Park, and I needed to use it. Back in those days I would leave my bike outside my front door at night. I’d bike to Pali Longs or Chun Hoon Market, and leave my bike outside while I went in to shop. No one I knew locked up their bikes in those days.
I leaned my bike against the restroom wall and went inside. When I can back outside, my heart sunk and my blood pressure blew up. I looked around. It had only been two or three minutes. How far could the person have gone.
Well, it was a bike. It wasn’t like he or she was lugging off my TV.
That was a long walk home. My parents were silent on the matter. They didn’t scold me. They also didn’t console me. I never owned another bike after that. I never rode another bike.
Not until that night in Madison when I tried to chase down and corral Raggy. And then there was that following morning. It really was a beautiful late fall day. Most of the leaves had turned and gone, but there was still some color. I don’t know. I’ve always loved bare trees. Their branches remind me of sculpture. The more mature the tree, the more branches, the more impressively intricate the sculpture.
Riding a bike, I guess, really is something you don’t forget how to do. Once you learn how, even if you haven’t ridden one in years, it’s very easy to pick up again.
So I rode that day, all around the west side neighborhoods. It was glorious.
Contrary to popular stereotyping, it was not a father who taught me to ride a bike, nor was it a mother, although my mother did give me all my driving lessons.
No, it was a College of Education student teacher who assisted Mrs. Johnson, my first-grade teacher. I am so sorry that I do not remember her name. I’ll call her Mrs. Sumida.
Our first-grade facility had two bicycles for our use. One was a brand new blue bike, the other was an old beat-up green one. At recess, my classmates would charge out the door in order to be the first to lay claim to the blue bicycle.
Now you’d think that once a person lost the race to the new blue bike, he or she might settle for the old beat-up green one. Well, on occasion such was the case. But generally, the beat-up old green bike simply lay there on its side day in and day out.
I was not one of the little five-year-olds who would vie for the new blue bike come recess time. Neither did I settle for use of the old green bike. No, I ran for neither one for a simple reason. Unlike almost all of my fellow first-graders, I didn’t know the first thing about how to ride a bike. I had no bike at home, had never expressed to my parents any interest in riding one.
But the more I saw how much fun my friends were having with the new blue bike, the more a desire to ride a bike wheeled its way into my heart.
Well, if I couldn’t compete for the new blue bike yet, I’d try to figure how to ride the old forlorn green one.
I started picking it up off the ground at recess. At first I’d walk it around. Then, after absorbing the idea of its rolling capability, I tried to mount it. This proved a challenge. I could throw my leg over the bar easily enough and take a seat, but when I tried to step on both of the peddles, I’d wobble a few inches and then tip over to one side, throwing out my foot to stop from falling.
Yeah, this balance thing was a problem.
And then it wasn’t.
“Lanny,” said Miss Sumida one day, apparently having observed me puzzling over the question of balance, “get up on the bike and I’ll hold onto it so you don’t fall over.”
Skeptical, but compliant in the face of authority, I did as she said. This was great. I could put both feet on the peddles and not fall over thanks to Miss Sumida holding me up.
“Okay,” she said, “now I’m going to let go, and you try to balance.”
She did, and I began to wobble. I put my foot down fast to catch myself.
“Okay,” she said, “let’s do it again.”
I got up on the bike, positioned my feet, and waited.
“Now I’m going to give you very small push. Don’t peddle. Just get ready to catch yourself if you tip to the side.”
I was even more skeptical now. Push me. I couldn’t even keep myself upright standing still.
“A very small push,” she said. “Ready?”
I wasn’t, but I said yup. She pushed. I went a foot or two before I tipped.
“Let’s try again,” she said.
We did. The small push was a little bigger. I traveled a few more feet before tipping this time.
Recess was over, but I wanted to try again tomorrow and asked Miss Sumida if I could.
The next day when I went out for recess, Miss Sumida was standing there with the old green bike. We practiced as before. Each time she would give me bigger and bigger pushes. Each time I would travel farther.
This went on for several days. No one else could use the green bike. She always had it waiting for me.
Finally one day she said, “Now when I push you, I want you to try to peddle.”
I did. At first I was wobbly and tipped a few times, but finally I was able to peddle a several feet at a time. This all went on for three weeks or so, and finally, finally, I was able to peddle without tipping. I could stop when I wanted to stop.
It was exhilarating. One day, while I was waiting for my mom to come pick me up, I was riding the green bike, my favorite, not the blue one, around the playground while Miss Sumida watched me. In my mind I can hear her cheering me on from time to time.
My mom finally arrived. When she saw me riding the green bike, she said, “Well, well, well. I see you’ve learned how to ride a bike.”
“Yes, yes, Miss Sumida taught me how,” I said, pointing her out.
They introduced themselves to each other and talked for a while. I continued happily riding around.
Finally it was time to go. My mom asked me to thank Miss Sumida for teaching me how to ride the bicycle. I did. With great enthusiasm.
On the way home I asked my mom if I could get a bike. She said she’d talk to my dad about it. For Christmas, Santa brought me a red Schwinn.
The following summer, I and my mom, who always took summer classes at UH, were in the registration line under the Army canvass tents they always put up on the Bachman Hall lawn for that purpose. I remember it was raining heavily that day. As we were snaking around, my mom spotted Miss Sumida just opposite us in the line.
“How are you doing, Lanny?” she asked.
I told her I was doing well and that I was riding my bike all the time. She was very happy for me, and the three of us kept talking until the snaking of the line took us out of earshot of each other.
When my mom had finished registering, we need to go pick up her books. We were milling around in the bookstore and whom should we bump into? Why, Miss Sumida of course.
She and my mom began talking again, and all of a sudden Miss Sumida said, “Lanny, how would you like to come eat dinner with my family tonight?”
I looked at her with great surprise. One does not often hear such things from ones teachers.
“Oh,” I said, definitely excited by the prospect, “yeah, that would be great. Can I Mama?” I asked.
“Why sure,” my mom said. “I think that would be very nice.”
Can you imagine that happening these days? No way would I ever let my kid go eat at some stranger’s home. Not that Miss Sumida was a stranger, exactly, but you know what I mean. My mom was so enthusiastic, who knows? Maybe she was hoping I’d be kidnapped.
At any rate, Miss Sumida drove me to her home up on ‘Ālewa Heights where I had a spaghetti dinner with her and her mom and dad. I can’t remember what all we talked about. It’s not like they would carry on an extended conversation with a five-year-old, but I know I felt very grown-up, and the evening was great fun.
Miss Sumida dropped me off back home, and then she drove away. Because she had finished her student teaching stint with us, I never saw her again.
I’ve not ridden a bike for many years now, but I did ride a bike after I moved back to Honolulu from Madison. I’ve often thought about Miss Sumida, when biking or otherwise. She would be, I would guess, in her mid to late 80s now.
It’s sad that I don’t remember her real name. I would love to see her now, to tell her, as an adult, how much her teaching and caring had meant to me.
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Happy #WriterSaturday. Today’s #WritingPrompt is
Use it to inspire a piece of writing, and then post that piece somewhere I can read it. I’d love to see what you come up with : )