Bell, Bike and Barrel
by Tim Philippart

The day didn’t start with a crowd but it grew one. My Dad said, “If you learn to ride tomorrow, I will buy a bike for you. Three hundred miles away from home, visiting my cousin, deep in the heart of Southern Illinois, the quest begins. One day to learn to ride a bike.

My Uncle Carl, cousins, Don and Rick, and my Dad were there. The yard angled right to left and funneled down to a burning barrel where trash was incinerated. I, age seven, hopped the bike, wobbled about 10 feet, and fell ignominiously to the side. My feet never made it to the pedals.

With all that testosterone watching me I wasn’t going to cry over one skinned elbow. I did wonder if mom was right, “He’s too young to learn this. He’ll get hurt.”

One try, one rock, one scraped elbow, but I was soon to be on a first-name basis with every rock in this very rocky backyard.

I pushed the bike back to my starting point, mounted, didn’t trust the pedals and, with legs akimbo, flopped side to side and met the second rock. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

The watchers wandered off. One said, “We’ll leave the address of the hospital on the table.”

Even my Dad, disappeared to wherever the fathers of failures go to hide their shame.

I skipped lunch. I kept falling. My mom and my aunt gave me pitying looks through the kitchen window. Supper slipped by and the neighborhood convened around my uncle’s side porch to watch the slaughter, my repeated assaults on the burning barrel, and the possibility of a painful death.

Deep in darkness, serenaded by cicadas, drenched in humidity, at 10 o’clock, the neighborhood sighed, “That stubborn kid from up North had learned to ride a bike.”

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Proud of my new Bike. Dig the streamers, bell, and the basket. With my sister, Kay. (Taken in Lockport, Illinois circa 1956.)

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Writing this didn’t hurt much more than learning to ride the bike and will leave fewer scars.

Philippart Bio1

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tim Philippart sold his business, retired to write and discovered that wasn’t very retired at all. He ghost blogs, writes poetry, nonfiction and an occasional magazine piece. He loves writing and wishes he had not waited decades to pick up the pen. Visit him at