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And then she was gone

It was Christmas Eve. Our oldest child, Jennifer, was nine. It was time for her first bicycle. One with training wheels, and purple streamers that hung from the handlebar grips, and reflectors that would catch the light in just the right way. I bought it at the local hardware store across the street from my law office. Naturally, it came in a flat crate and required assembly.

I took it home that afternoon, hid the crate in the garage, and after Jennifer and her younger brother and sister had gone to bed to dream their Christmas dreams, my wife, Linnette, and I brought it into the house so I could assemble it in the living room and have it shiny and ready for Christmas morning. Alas, as I reached the midway point in its assembly, it became apparent there was a missing part. It was now near midnight. The store was long closed. I was stuck. It appeared there would be a half-assembled bicycle waiting for our daughter under the tree come morning.

I was not about to let that happen.

I got on the telephone and tracked down the manager of the store at his home. He was in bed. I told him of my dilemma and that I expected him to make the situation right, that I was not going to disappoint my child on Christmas morning. To his credit, he agreed to meet me and give me the missing part. I drove to the store and met him; he was still in his pajamas with his hair sticking out in all directions, and not at all happy. However, he gave me the part and I returned home to complete the assembly. It was now well past midnight.

The next morning, very early, there were shouts of joy from the living room as the children came tumbling down from their bedrooms to find their Christmas gifts waiting. And there, by the tree, was a bright new purple-and-white bicycle, with streamers hanging from the handlebar grips, sitting up on its training wheels, just waiting for a little girl to leap onto the saddle and ride.

For the next few weeks, Jennifer rode on the sidewalk in front of our house, using the training wheels, learning the rules of the road, learning how to handle the bike, with Linnette and me running behind her, watching her every move. Finally, however, the day came when she insisted that the training wheels had to come off. No self-respecting bicycle rider wanted the impediment of training wheels. None of her friends needed training wheels. She no longer needed training wheels. We weren’t so certain.

But, reluctantly, I removed the training wheels and she and I went over to the school playground with its long, wide stretches of blacktop. With me racing behind her, holding her up, we flew across the playground time and time again. Finally, she felt confident and ready to go on her own.

“Let me go, Daddy,” she cried out. “Let me go!”

Cautiously, I lifted my hands away from the back of the seat as I ran behind her. And then, at last, she was riding without my help, although I’m not sure she realized it at first. She peddled faster and faster and I ran faster and faster, trying to keep up, waiting for her to tip and topple to one side or the other.

But, miracle of miracles, she remained upright. Out of breath, I stopped and watched as she disappeared across the open spaces of the school yard. She was on her own. She no longer needed me to hold her up. In that one brief, defining moment, she was gone.

Ronald Talney is a resident of Lake Oswego.

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