Heart and Soul

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


There’s something about summer that brings out the kid in me. Hot sunny days arrive and I find myself thoughtlessly reverting to activities, clothing styles and even foods that suggest memories of my long ago youth.

My latest seasonal blast-from-the-past relates to a constitutional bike ride that I recently started taking each day. It’s an around-the-rural-block trek that amounts to approximately a five-mile journey. Now I have to tell you, it’s been a few years since I’ve undertaken bicycle cruises. Twenty to be exact. So the prospect of hitting the hilly country roads surrounding my rural home was initially somewhat daunting.

However, as June’s official point of summer demarcation brought forth festivals, and fun, it also set my mind to believing that the lengthy time lapse and considerable age span since my last cycling adventures were irrelevant. Suddenly, somehow I thought I was totally capable of climbing on my tortuously butt-busting bike seat and magically pedaling away with ease.


Week one: I managed to accomplish each complete, around-the-block circuit without once dismounting and walking. It was an achievement in which, on the downside of age fifty, I took great personal pride. Although I will tell you that during this period, my husband several times made mention of the fact that I seemed to be walking a lot like John Wayne.

Week two: I began to recover my old muscle memory and recall the concept of power pedaling, to the point that by day ten, I was cranking my riding machine up into the double digits of its twenty-one gear capacity. Soon I was embarking on actual trips with destinations such as the post office, the supermarket, and town meetings.

My bicycle was no longer just an object of excruciating exercise, rather, it had become an open-air transportation option. As I set off on my trips with a backpack over my shoulder and a Walkman cranking out my favorite tunes, I was once again a kid again……at least in theory.

Week three: Having fully re-mastered the basics, I began to playfully consider the joyful challenges of long forgotten bicycle stunts. Hands free, pop a wheelies, spinning a 360. Eventually my more mature nature coerced me into pursuing the one stunt that posed the least danger to my aging, breakable bones…. hands free.

I chose a downhill stretch of my preset route, a point where the incline would minimize my need to pedal and allow me to concentrate solely on my balance. As I picked up speed I tentatively let go of the handlebars… and immediately re-grabbed them as I felt my two wheeler drift wildly out of control.

"Perhaps not a good move" my mature nature cautioned. To which my summer-child sense issued a "Don’t be a wimp" challenge.

Needless to say, I tried again.

This time, I succeeded in leaving the handlebars unattended for a thirty second span. Victory! Score one for reclaiming my youth.

The next day, at the crest of the same hill, I once again attempted to abandon the security of my bike’s handlebar guidance system. Thirty, forty, sixty seconds passed and I was still hands free. Then with the wind whistling through my hair and Mary Chapin Carpenter’s "Why Walk When You Can Fly?" blasting from my earphones I decided to go for the gusto.

Slowly I extended my arms up over my head inch by inch until they reached for the clouds. It was a moment directly relived from the best memories of my youth.

Who says plastic surgery and expensive moisturizing creams are the only way to look and feel younger? Give me a bike and a good down hill run anyday!



I took a little vacation from life last week.

I didn’t cook. I didn’t clean. I didn’t grocery shop. I didn’t go to the office. Didn’t answer the phone, check e-mail, or watch TV. I didn’t even work on my newspaper, Internet or radio Heart and Soul columns. In fact, during my entire retreat I only put pen to paper once. And that was to write a eulogy for my Uncle Dave.

For long time Heart and Soul readers, my uncle may be a familiar character, as I have written about him a number of times. For those new to Heart and Soul, Uncle Dave was a man who went to great lengths to stay connected to me and my children after my father (his brother) vanished from our lives. He was also the man who, throughout his life, provided me with a true and valuable role model as a faithful marriage partner, an always-caring parent, and a visionary career person.

In short, he was more father than uncle.

When my cousin first called with the news of her father’s passing I was saddened, but not surprised. It had been 3 years since my uncle’s unreliable memory and questionable health forced the trade of his independent lifestyle for the security of a senior care facility. And though he dreamed of attending his grandchildren’s college graduations and one day dancing at their weddings, when we last spoke he intuitively acknowledged playing out the final innings of his life.

As my family and I headed to Virginia for his memorial service, I thought a lot about my uncle’s place in my life and his role in our family. In review, each memory provided a treasured moment always made better by his caring presence.

Yet upon our arrival in his hometown of Radford, a number of local and regional front-page news stories reminded me that my uncle was a man who made a difference in the lives of many, outside our family.

Uncle Dave was the Radford Recreation and Parks Director for twenty seven years and a part time Radford recreation employee for the twenty years following his 1978 "retirement." During that time, Uncle Dave pushed and pulled the small southern town’s rec program to a level of excellence that made it a recognized and honored statewide prototype.

He also diligently hammered away for a number of years at naysayers and non supporters of his dream to create a town park. His vision included playgrounds, picnic shelters, bike and jogging paths and a swimming pool, all set alongside the New River floodlands in downtown Radford. When my determined uncle ultimately won his park battle, he was rewarded for his civic vision by Radford town fathers as they officially named the land, B. David Bisset Park, in his honor.

Considering my uncle’s prominent role in the community, I expected his memorial service to be filled to overflowing with men, women, and young adults whose lives were touched and influenced by this wonderful man’s caring ways. However, as it turned out, only several dozen residents attended.

I was somewhat puzzled and a little frustrated that the people of Radford didn’t make a greater effort to recognize this man who had given more than half of his 86 years to their community. But then I began to recall the previous day, before my uncle’s memorial service, when our family set off on our own pilgrimage to Bisset Park.

As we turned onto the park’s entranceway, we were immediately halted by a long line of cars waiting to gain entry into the recreational grounds. As we slowly made our way into the park, we were surrounded by men, women and children of all ages, walking, biking, jogging, boating, playing on the slides and swings, picnicking under the protective shelters---fully enjoying every element of the park, just as my Uncle Dave envisioned. Ultimately, I realized that by enjoying Bisset Park, the people of Radford were paying their own form of tribute to this special man, not just for a few hours at his memorial service, but every single day, 365 days a year.

And I also came to the undeniable conclusion that, knowing my uncle, their homage was exactly what he would have wanted and most enjoyed.
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