Fifty years ago, make that sixty-five years ago, Sears sold a sturdy bike under the brand Allstate. One was sold, maybe to a young couple with a girl child just old enough to learn to ride. It was a heavy, steel bike, no alloys, nothing made from aluminum, just steel pipes bent into place with real welds at all joints. The seat was huge and made for upright sitting, two coil springs for comfort, none of that leaning over to grab the handlebars. The handle bars were high and within easy reach. If you wanted to stop all you needed to do was peddle backwards. Two and a half inch wide steel fenders covered the full top half of the oversized balloon tires. The girl child presumably learned to ride while the paint was still a high gloss and she left the bike for bigger girl things before tires were worn. Over time and several riders, the paint became rust, the tires were worn bald, replaced and worn bald again. At some point it is possible an industrious father with a plan for his young daughter took a can of oil based red paint and a not-so-soft bristled bush and without sanding or taking dents out of the jumbo fenders made the now old bike into an old bike with a sloppy paint job. I’m sure his daughter was proud of at least her father if not of the now very second hand bike.
The rust has started to come through the red paint at the welded joints and chips of thick, faded, chalky paint have left the fenders. The chain guard is gone which leaves my right pant leg with a strip of black grease near my ankle but sixty-five years later the bike still provides dependable transportation and I’m not sure that isn’t more than I need. The dirt path is only as wide as a line of slow walking cattle wanted it to be. The cattle walk the same path every morning making the pale brown clay as hard as asphalt. The balloon tires absorb most of the bumps and the coil springs on the seat squeak as they soften my ride. The foothills around me are covered with wheat for as far as I can see, golden, soft curves, hill behind hill behind hill. I know the next valley after the next hill will be very different, quite unusual to most people when they first see my uncle’s farm. The farm is exactly what I expect but still unusual.
I’m not related to my uncle by any bloodlines I know of. His name is Jack but I have never heard anyone call him anything but uncle and just like I do they claim him as their uncle making it more than just a name or title. If he gives advice it is good to listen carefully. What he says is often worth hearing but it is important to understand that the words he uses are not the simplest path from here to there. Still, many of the people in our village go to him for advice or, maybe more often, to talk something out until it is understood. The first view of his farm always startles me. As my heavy steel bike clears the top of the last hill I prepare for the intake of breath that always accompanies the first sight of my uncle’s crop of wheat. As I clear the crest and start the long coast into my uncle’s valley the bright blue stocks of my uncle’s wheat replace the typical golden wheat of everywhere else. Lighter blue chaff at the tops holds glowing red kernels almost ready for harvest. The trip down the hillside is fast without any need to peddle. By the time the bike pulls up next to my uncle’s home I am rested, and completely cooled by the wind on the sweat that is now dry. I lean my bike on a small stack of blue hay, all that is left of last year’s crop. My uncle has to fight to keep back enough bales for his own use. The blue hay is known to not only be very high in proteins but it brings health and long life to the livestock it feeds. His house is a simple wood frame structure with just enough room for my uncle’s needs. I knock on the door of the house only as a courtesy, he’s never inside he’ll be outside working on something or checking fences or convincing squirrels to eat somewhere else.