The back-story, I: Bicycles

This is third in an ongoing series about my father’s stroke. Again, the personal part follows a fairly straightforward gardening entry. Quit at the divider (a row of asterisks) if you’re not interested in the memoir portion.

Year-to-date precipitation for 2010:

Picture 2
Source: wunderground

Year’s precipitation for 2009:

Picture 3
Source: wunderground

Today started windy, cloudy, and cool; at midday, the temperature hadn’t even reached fifty degrees (10ºC). After an April so warm we ate on the patio several times, the weather set out to remind us that this is Montana, after all. It was snowing on the thirtieth, the day I left for Toronto and Minneapolis, and it’s been raining off and on ever since.

We got two glorious days of sunshine on Sunday and Monday, but it was too good to last. Rainfall here doesn’t begin to compare with what’s fallen in Oklahoma and, more obviously and tragically, Arkansas, but on the merely nuisance and gardening scales, it ranks pretty high.

There’s water in one corner of the basement, and after one especially heavy downpour two days ago, the hose draining the washing machine spewed water over the basement floor. Fortunately, I was there to turn off the machine and sweep the water into the floor drain, or we’d have had a real mess. Also fortunately, my husband was right: the problem was just a completely overloaded drainage system, not a clogged pipe: when I restarted the machine several hours later, it emptied without any problems.

Some folks I know have all but given up on gardening for the season. I haven’t joined them, but they’ve got my sympathy. One bed that I planted in a frantic rush the day before leaving on my May trip has produced only a few widely spaced peas and some tentative spinach. The rest, I assume, rotted in the ground, and will have to be replanted. Grr.

Piles of material for composting are too soggy to heat up, strawberries are in danger of not pollinating, and those that do form are being ripped from the plants by weirdly unseasonable hail.

June is usually the wettest month of the year in Bozeman and often cooler than May, but this is ridiculous. If you look at the precipitation overviews at the start of this post (courtesy of Wunderground), you can see how much more rain we’re getting this year than last. And last June so wet that I lost many garden starts to rain; they simply drowned. I’ve been more careful this year.

Now and then I’d like to get out of the garden and go for a bike ride, but the weather pretty much puts a damper on that, too. The forecast calls for at least partial sunshine this weekend; I’ll be ready.

* * * * * *

My parents were on their bicycles when the stroke hit.

Cycling is a passion for them. They’ve made several long cycling trips to the Pyrenees, in France, carrying all their own gear and returning often enough so that at a couple of favorite inns their arrival was greeted by the French version of “Oh, it’s the Gardners.” They do all their errands in Toronto by bicycle; they’ve never owned a car.

Well, that’s not quite true. Our car got us as far as Toronto before dying (like my mother, I suddenly realize.) Connie owned a car when she married my Dad, an aging item over whose rust spots she painted flowers. “I think that’s one reason the neighbors didn’t have much to do with us,” she told me years later. That was in 1968. How did my idea that she was uptight survive those flowers? Teenagers can sure be set in their ways, I guess.

When that car gave up the ghost, my parents didn’t replace it, relying on rentals for long trips, and on bikes and Toronto’s excellent public transportation for local ones.

They had very different styles: Connie is more cautious, while Dad will careen down mountain passes without using his brakes. Years ago, when he was in his sixties and I in my early forties, I went out for a ride with Dad during which he passed stopped buses in a way that brought my heart to my mouth, raced a much younger cyclist, and wore me to a nubbin.

Back home, he described to Connie the expression of the cyclist when he was passed by “an old geezer and a girl.” When I expressed some surprise over his aggressive, even dangerous antics, he looked at me quizzically. “Dad,” I said, “if I had ridden as a teenager the way you did today, you would have taken my bicycle away from me.”

On the bikes, as in the car, Connie acts as navigator; she can get you anywhere in Toronto on beautiful small streets, leading you by glorious downhill sweeps to your destination and by such gradual slopes home that you never seem to be going uphill.

Dad tended the bikes lovingly, spending hours in the yard surrounded by tools, adjusting, fine-tuning, and cleaning. For me, one of the clearest, saddest, signs of his decline came during their last visit here in Montana several years ago, when he set out to do a fairly routine repair on my bike and had to be bailed out by my husband, because Dad had no idea what he was doing.

Yet even in their eighties, my parents biked all over the city, sometimes for pleasure, sometimes on errands. When they left their house for the retirement home where they now live, they entered a plea for indoor parking for bicycles, and the head of the home honored their request. On one visit (I always rent a bike when I’m there), as we headed downstairs for a ride–Dad, even at eighty, looking fit and muscular in cycling pants, Connie in looser slacks, all of us decked out in helmets–we encountered a woman who nodded and said, “Ah, the Gardners.” Connie warmly introduced me to the manager of the home: “Our daughter, Kate.” The woman nodded again, a smile tugging at a corner of her mouth as she took in my helmet and cycling shorts. “Of course.”

So it’s not surprising that my parents were on their bicycles, even at the end of November.

2 Responses to The back-story, I: Bicycles

  1. That was wonderful, especially the bicycle part! Lovely. And as for the rain, I’ve had about 7″ in teh last week. Plants are leaning at 45 degree angles because in the wind, their stalks have carve out holes in the mushy soil. And now the dewpoint is 72.

  2. So nice to hear from you, Benjamin! I’ve been terrible about visiting other blogs in recent months, I fear, but I have wondered how your writing is going.
    Seven inches or rain in one week exceeds our worst, I suspect. I hope things have improved since then.
    –Kate

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