Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Momma G

I have always loved motorcycles.  When I was a small child, my parents were friends with a young couple who wore black leather jackets with white fringe.  They let me straddle their motorcycle and I would dream of speeding down the highway with the wind in my face.  As a teenager, I watched episodes of Then Came Bronson on television and envied the main character’s sense of freedom and adventure.  The idea of motoring across the country with no set agenda sounded to me a bit like Heaven.  In college I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Robert Pirsig convinced me that a romantic life of riding unprotected from the elements was the way to find oneself and become one with the universe.

Then, the summer after I graduated from college, my brother Scott and I went on a motorcycle trip to Canada.  The first day was spectacular, with clear skies and bright sunlight. I still remember how the farms in the Cherry Valley section of New York looked like patchwork quilts and how the golden sun warmed my back through my leather jacket.    We traveled into Ontario and slowly drove along Niagara Falls, where the mist gathered on my helmet’s face shield and shivered the back of my neck.  As the week progressed the weather became cloudy and finally, on the way home, it poured a chilling rain that soaked through our jeans and leather jackets and left us shaking with cold and yearning for hot showers and our mother’s homemade soup.

I had not been on a motorcycle since that summer until last week, when my younger brother Kevin and I took his Harley Davidson through the White Mountain National Forest.  I met him early on a cold Tuesday morning and borrowing my sister-in-law’s leather jacket and helmet, climbed on the back of his bike.  Kevin is a big man – 6’5” and a fire fighter.  He is calm and methodical and I trust him intrinsically.  But as he opened the throttle and I watched the stripes on the pavement blur, it occurred to me that this adventure might be a bit dangerous. 

This had never happened before. When I was younger I never considered the fact that I always wear a seatbelt in my car, but there is virtually nothing between the pavement and a motorcycle rider.  I had never wondered if while leaning into the curves, we might tip too far and catapult to the hereafter.  Before, I could stand on the foot pegs, hands lightly on my brother’s shoulder, while we screamed down a highway at 75 miles an hour.  Now, I tucked my head down to stay out of the wind, and felt my shoulders tighten against the cold.  “Good grief,” I thought.  “I’m getting old!”

It doesn’t take many nudges like that to get my dander up.  Although I accept aging, I do not embrace it, and I do not like reminders that the years are advancing.  I certainly do not like to catch myself thinking like someone who has become settled and safe.  I looked up at the trees rushing by us.  They are painted the colors of autumn now- gold, russet, crimson.  I deeply inhaled, taking in the scent of falling leaves and spicy pine needles. Above us hung a low lying blanket of gray and white cotton batten, which at rare moments would split open to reveal azure sky and spill warmth like melted butter.  I relaxed my shoulders and closed my eyes, feeling the wind on my face.  I remember this feeling.   This is the feeling of freedom.  This is the feeling of trust. This is the feeling of relinquishing control, of releasing to the fates. 

I spent the rest of the day drinking from this cup of freedom.   The mountains were dark and silent, their gentle contours like the folds of a blanket. The foliage glowed in muted pigments.  We took a short hike to Sabbaday Falls and when I teetered on the edge of a wet rock, Kevin held out his hand to steady me.  My mind flashed to days when I held his mittened hands as he learned to skate on Number 1 Pond. “Moments like this,” I thought, “are treasures, to be savored and kept in our hearts for eternity.”

Neither of us is young anymore.  It takes us a little longer to get on and off the bike. We have to stop more frequently to stretch the kinks from our muscles and loosen our aching joints. Truth be told, it took four ibuprofen and two cups of coffee to get me going the next morning.  But for a few hours, we were young and free and maybe even just a little badass. 

Okay… maybe not the badass part.  But definitely, we were free.

Bronson, eat your heart out.

How Sweet It Was

When I was a child, I loved sweets.  My siblings and I searched for coins in the gutters by the old Monson Inn, where wrinkled men sat on the cement steps, smoking cigars and drinking from little glass bottles.  Fortunately for us, the men often dropped change on the ground and inevitably, one of us would find a few pennies or a nickel – enough to fill a small brown bag with penny candy from Siren’s store.  

It was a short walk to the store – down Dye House Hill, over the bridge across from Ellis Woolen Mills, and past South Main Street School.  We would stop on the bridge to watch dye spill into the river from a large round hole at the bottom of the bridge, and play on the merry-go-round and swings in the school playground.  Finally, coins in hand, we would pull open the wooden door to Siren’s Store.  A hanging bell tinkled our arrival and the inside smelled of bread and State Line potato chips.  Across from the door and to the left was a huge glass display case, filled with a large assortment of penny candy.

The selection seemed endless; wax lips, Mary Janes, Bazooka bubble gum and candy cigarettes sat behind the polished glass, begging to be chosen.  There were Fireballs and wax bottles filled with sugary colored syrup, Pixi Stix that turned your tongue bright red and orange, Turkish Taffy, Boston Baked Beans and Indian Pumpkin Seeds.  There were candy lipsticks and candy buttons.  There were Sugar Daddys and Sugar Babies, Root Beer Barrels and Red Hot Bottle Caps.  We would stand on tip toe, smudge the glass by pointing at our choices, and ask the patient Mrs. Siren for “One of those,” and “Two of these,” until our money was spent.  Then, handing her the sweaty coins, we would slowly walk home, debating which candy to try first, and whether to suck or chew.

 When I was seven, I was particularly enticed by television commercials for Hostess Sno Balls.  The commercial showed delectable round cakes covered with marshmallow and coconut that when sliced in half, revealed a fluffy cream center.  My mother never bought this type of treat.  She made cookies from scratch – oatmeal raisin, molasses, sugar jumbles. She baked vanillla cupcakes iced with butter cream that was whipped with beaters we would beg to lick clean.  They were nice, but they did not have marshmallow shells and delicious cake with fluffy cream centers that came two to a pack; one to eat and one to share.  Every afternoon during the Ranger Andy cartoon show, there were commercials for Hostess Sno Balls.  I became obsessed.

Hostess cakes came at a price – ten cents for one pack! It took me weeks to scavenge enough pennies to equal a dime, but at long last, I did.  Instead of waiting for my sisters, I took the walk to Siren’s Store alone, ignoring the dye splashing into the river, passing by the empty swings at South Main Street School.  I opened the door to the store and looked for the shelf that held the snack cakes. There they were – Hostess Sno Balls, in all their marshmallow and coconut glory.  I proudly counted the pennies into Mrs. Siren’s waiting hand and stepping out the door, hurried to open the package.  Not wanting to wait until I got home, I took a big bite, eagerly awaiting the delicate marshmallow to melt in my mouth, searching for the cream filling in the center of the cake.  I stopped in surprise. The marshmallow was rubbery and the cake was not tender and delicate like my mother’s cake.  And the luscious cream filling was not fluffy and light like my mother’s whipped cream.  It was thick and tasteless.  I looked at the uneaten cake in my right hand and the one-to-share in my left.  I thought about how long it took to save up that ten cents and how many fireballs and Bazooka bubble gums I could have bought.  Now all I had were these spongy gobs that probably would have bounced, had I thrown them. 

I walked to the bridge and watched the brown dye empty into the river.  I looked at the Sno Balls and looked down at the water.  What more damage could a couple of Hostess Sno Balls do?  I threw them over the rail, one at a time, and watched them bob to the surface and float away with the current.  Then I hurried home.  There was still time to look for change in the coin return of the pay phone by the Monson Inn.  Maybe my sister Robin would go with me.

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