Letter #6: Postcards From You

Dear Gramma,

Last night I was enjoying the quiet of the wee morning hours.  I could hear Terry snoring in the bed as I sifted through a box of things my mom gave me.  There was a book of things I wrote in first grade that I can’t wait to share with my class.  There were cards from my first few birthdays.  I traced your signature on the cards you sent me and I traced Grandpa’s name, too.

Underneath the stack of birthday cards were items my mom brought back from your house, including the postcards you bought on our trip.  The backs of the postcards were blank and I sat in our office staring at their stark backs.  Tears welled in my eyes because those postcards will always be blank.  I sunk to the floor, wishing for your words to trace with my fingers.

I flipped the postcards over and ran my fingers across each glossy image of the places we’d been together.  It occurred to me that it was exactly three years ago to the day that you took me on that crazy bus tour for my birthday.  We had such a good time, didn’t we?  As I studied the postcards, I remembered the day we visited Novi Sad.  Do you remember when we stopped on that bridge and I asked you to take a picture of me with the beautiful buildings in the background?

You took this:

I asked if maybe you could take another picture.  One that captured the buildings and especially the clock tower in the background.

You lined the camera up carefully and took this:

I laughed and asked if you could possibly take another photo with the buildings in the background and preferably my entire head.

For a third time you lined the camera up really carefully and clicked the button, confident that you’d certainly got a good shot that time.  Do you remember how hard we laughed when we saw this?

And then our bus was leaving so we never did get a decent shot of that clock tower.  Gramma, you were so good at so many things, but you were an awful photographer.  Just awful.  And I’m so glad because each time I think of that bridge in Novi Sad, I remember how hard we laughed that day and how relieved you were when I banned you from taking photos for the rest of our trip.

Later that night, we ordered banana splits for dinner in the hotel bar.  The bar was closing and you asked the waiter to take our picture.  We ate and talked well into the wee hours of the morning.

Thank you for taking me on that trip.  And thank you for never sending those postcards to your friends.  Three years later they have come back to me, reminding me that the things we saw on our trip paled in comparison to the time we spent together.

Love,

Alicia

The Windows Are Mornings and Evenings

Two nights ago That Laura and I went kayaking on Whiskeytown Lake.

I am a clumsy kayaker at best.  My fat little boat yawed back and forth as I slapped my paddle into the water and tried in vain to keep up with the other longer, sleeker vessels.  Truly it’s a wonder Laura doesn’t completely disown me out there.

We paddled out to Boulder Creek and then a little further around the lake.  The moon showed its milky, round face as the sun slipped from the sky.  The mountains changed from green to black and even the bright colors of the kayaks faded into shadows.  I watched the sun settle behind the mountains and for a second the lake was quiet.

I sat in my kayak, eating dinner, watching the moonlight stretch across the water.  The Color Green by Rich Mullins was the soundtrack in my head.  It is my absolute most favorite song ever on the planet.  You should listen to it right now.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Rich Mullins was a beautiful writer and as I sat washed in moonlight, I thought of the first verse.

“And the moon is a sliver of silver

Like a shaving that fell on the floor of a Carpenter’s shop

And every house must have it’s builder

And I awoke in the house of God

Where the windows are mornings and evenings

Stretched from the sun

Across the sky north to south”

For all the times I accidentally bump into other boats, for all the times I paddle so much water into my kayak that I’m soaking wet, this is why I love kayaking on the moonlit lake.  I feel like I am looking through the windows inside the house of God.

I Am From

I was introduced to the work of George Ella Lyon at the NCWP Summer Institute.  That night I tucked myself into my dorm room, plugged my earbuds into my laptop and was mesmerized by the richness of  George Ella Lyon’s voice.  I listened to her poem Where I’m From over and over again that night.  And then, like all writers do, I tried to emulate her.  I plumbed my memories and tapped away at the keys, deleting and typing, deleting and typing until the lines left on the screen felt right in my mouth. These are those lines.

I Am From

I am from hopscotch chalked on sidewalks, from Schwinn and Barbies.

I am from the top of Sleepy Hollow Loop, picking Poet’s Shooting Star for my mother.

I am from dandelion seeds caught in my curls, a faded image captured in the pages of my red photo album.

I am from jumping barefoot over salty waves, gripping my grandfather’s steady hand.

I am from the Wheeler nose and Betty Jean’s dimpled cheeks.

I am from the never-ending goodbye and Christmas stockings, stitched with care.

I am from the empty tomb and undeserved, infinite grace.

I am from Redding, scorched into my skin on sweltering summer days.

I am from Saturday morning sweetmilks and strings of golden taffy.

I am from pink bikes and purple lips stained with blackberries by the river

I am from poetry and my mother’s lullabies.

I am from beeping EKG’s keeping time with my heart, keeping time with my beautiful life.

Letter #5: Signs

Dear Gramma,

Another cycling season has come to a close and I thought of you often as I rode up hills and coasted through the plains.  I rode through places so beautiful, I thought my heart was going to burst from all that splendor.  You were always interested in the world around you and I wanted to share some of my favorite memories of the places I’ve seen from my two wheels.  I wish I could show you in person.  Sometimes Heaven feels so far away, such a long way off.

On Easter Sunday I rode with Uncle Jon.  We rode behind the hills you loved so much and came upon this cactus farm.


Pete completed his first century in May and here we are with the three Shastas: Shasta Lake, Shasta Dam and Mt. Shasta.  We had so much fun together and I wanted to call you so badly that night.

This one is from the finish line in Portland.  Do you remember my childhood best friend, Julie?  She cheered me on at the finish line.

And let’s face it, I will never, ever race in the Tour de France.  However, the LiveStrong Chalkbot is rolling out messages of inspiration all along the course.  This one is from my friend, Lynn.  Yes, I know how lucky I am to have such thoughtful friends.

The world is a wonderful place and I wish we were traveling it together.  But for now it is enough that I carried your sign in my jersey pocket and carried your spirit in my heart.  I love you, Gramma.

Love,

Alicia

Seattle to Portland

208 Miles

208 miles is a long way to drive, let alone ride a bike, but last weekend, that’s exactly what The Rocket and I did.  The Rocket took a road trip to Portland and then hopped a bus to Seattle.  I’m told she was well-behaved and didn’t talk in her sleep too much.  While the Rocket travelled by land, Terry and I flew to Seattle.  The morning of the ride, I woke up at the unholy hour of 3:30 to yank on my Spandex and throw a bowl of Cheerios down the hatch.  As we fought road construction to the start line, my stomach was a ball of nerves.  With 10,000 cyclists participating in the Seattle to Portland ride, the start line was a hive of activity.  I met up with my pals, Joan, Laura, and Jim.  Terry kissed me goodbye, and at 5:15 we were off.  My favorite part of the morning was riding through Seattle watching the sun rise above the downtown skyline.

I also rode by green fields filled with wildflowers, like the ones I used to pick in fistfuls for my mother when I was a kid.

The sky was overcast most of the ride and temperatures hovered in the sixties and seventies.  It was a welcome relief from the scorching Redding heat and when it began to drizzle, I tilted my head back and let the sprinkles hit my teeth as I smiled, filled with joy to be on my bike.

3 Awesome Things With Wheels

With 9,999 other cyclists on the course, I was never alone.  I thought of the rules Gramma and I had on our trip to Eastern Europe.  Rule #1: See something new.  Rule #2: Meet someone new.  Rule #3: Eat ice cream.  I was riding by all kinds of new scenery and crazy bikes.  On the first hill, I rode past a three person wide bicycle.  Yes, I know that’s not technically a bicycle, but since they were riding across, not front to back, it’s not a tandem either.  I don’t know what this thing was, but it was a bike with three riders that motored up hills like a sack of bricks.  I also passed a unicyclist.  I cannot even fathom what it takes to ride a unicycle 200 some odd miles.  I’m just going to take a moment of gratitude for my comfortable bike seat.  Maybe I’ll write it a sonnet later.  While the brick of riders and the uni were incredible, the most amazing bike (and again, I’m grappling for the right term here) was this:

It is the offspring of an unnatural romance between a bicycle and an elliptical machine.  I saw two of these parked at the finish line which means there are at least two people on the planet insane enough to ride/run from Seattle to Portland.  Incidentally, when I showed this picture to Terry, he said something like “I think I’d be awesome on a bike like that.”  He’s right and that makes me feel a little bit stabby.  Anyway, now I understand why there is a separate room for spin bikes at my gym.  Who knows what might happen if they were left alone at night with the elliptical machines.

2 Creamsicles

After 100 miles there is a midline festival.  I’d heard rumors that when you ride into the festival, there are people there handing out Creamsicles.  I assure you, such Heaven does exist on Earth.  Before I get to the Creamsicles, I have to backtrack a little.  I’m a proud member of Team Fatty and on both days of the ride I sported Fat Cyclist jerseys.  This means that throughout the ride I heard “Go, Team Fatty!”  and “Fight Like Susan!”  This warmed my heart knowing that Fatty has touched so many people with his efforts to fight cancer.  When people rolled up next to me, they would usually open the conversation with a friendly “Hey, Fatty!”  Now, let it be known here and now that if you call me Fatty when I’m not on my bike, there will be punching.  Lots of punching.  People who don’t know Fatty’s story asked about my jersey and I told them the story of Susan and my own story of riding for my grandmother.

There was also a large contingent of cyclists that felt they had to make sure my self-esteem was properly inflated.  Hundreds, maybe thousands, of cyclists rode up to me and said “You’re not a fat cyclist.”  I’d say a quick thanks, relieved that my jerseys were ironic and not truth in advertising.  I’ve worked hard this season to trim up a bit, but after 50 or so people commented on my unfatness, I started replying a little differently.  Instead of just saying thanks I’d say things like “It’s more of a state of mind.”  People would laugh and then I’d tell them how I came to join Team Fatty.  At mile 99, with Creamsicles dancing in my head, another cyclist rolled up next to me and this was our conversation.

“You’re not a fat cyclist.”

“Thanks.  It’s more of a state of mind.”

“Oh, like p-h-a-t cyclist?”

“Yeah, sure.  That and if I beat you to the midline festival, I’m going to eat my Creamsicle and yours, too.”

He sprinted to the festival and I sprinted right after him, passing him just in time to grab a Creamsicle.  He gave me his Creamsicle and I happily ate them both.  One for me, one for Gramma Betty.  Sorta like pouring one out for my homey.

1 Awkward Moment of Chivalry

I am a big fan of chivalry, specifically of men like Terry who hold doors open for women.  At each rest stop there were rows of port-a-potties.

Did you catch the manufacturer’s name?  Honey Bucket.  Has there ever been a more ill-fitting name for something?  I think I’ve just found a new curse word.  “Oh, honeybuckets!”  or “Aren’t you just a little honeybucket?”  Yup, it totally works.

So there I was on deck for a Honey Bucket, waiting for a door to pop open.  A man exited the last one, and I hurried over.  And then he held the door to the port-a-potty open for me.  It was awkward.  I just stood there for a second until he let the door go.  I don’t really know why I felt so awkward except that nobody has ever held a port-a-potty door for me before.  I feel kinda bad because I was stunned by this act of chivalry and I’m not even sure I said thanks.  So, let me just say thanks to that guy now.  Thanks, nice guy who held the door for me.  I’ll try to be less of a honeybucket next time.

1 Drawbridge

One of the best parts of the ride was crossing from Washington into Oregon.  We crossed over the Columbia River by riding over a drawbridge.  Joan snapped this photo as ride volunteers closed off traffic and let huge groups of cyclists go at a time.  Crossing the bridge shoulder to shoulder with hordes of other cyclists was thrilling.

1 Good Cry

At around mile 160, I passed a sign for Prescott Beach:

My grandfather’s name was Prescott and when I saw the sign, I immediately thought, “I’ve got to call Gramma and tell her about this!” And there it was.  Grief bleeding through the scab that had begun to form in the months since my grandmother’s death.  Most of the time, I’m aware that she is gone, but every now and then I’ll see something that makes me think of her.  My reflexes react and I am left raw, missing her in a whole new way, grieving for all the things I will never get to share with her.  I pedaled and cried.  My legs were weary and my cadence was slow.

And then I thought of my mom.  The same weekend I was riding for Gramma Betty, my mom was closing up my grandmother’s house for the last time.  Packing up her furniture.  Sitting in the backyard one last time.  Driving away with her heart in her throat.  Riding a double century is hard, but I thought of how my mom was doing something so much harder.  I thought of how my mom has been so strong and brave these last few months.  I thought of how my mom is so much like my grandmother and how I want to be strong and brave, just like both of them.  My legs began to pedal faster, my tears dried up and I sailed across the finish line.

32 Donors & 1,243 Dollars

Maya Angelou says “I will be myself.  I will speak my own name.”  This season I have taken my hobby and used it to speak my grandmother’s name.  And now I speak your names because you have spoken for cancer patients and their families.  Together we raised $1,243 for LiveStrong.  You have overwhelmed me with your generosity.  Thank you Adam C., Amy H., Andrea & Jeromy H., Anita J., Betty C., Cheryl P., Chris F., Christine W., Dale M., David & Vickey P., Debbie S., Diana P., Hayley L., Heather F., Jill S., John P., Katie G., Kathy V., Katie L., Krystle J., Marla M., MaryKay, S., Melody A., Nick W., Patti L., Peter K., Sallie C., Sam O., Sara S., Stacey R., Sue H., and Tracy H.

1 More Thing

It’s been a fantastic, heartbreaking, beautiful cycling season.  Thank you for being a part of the journey.  I couldn’t do it without you.  Oh, and there’s just one more thing before I go:

Fondly,

Alicia