"Squish, squash, squish, squash!" After a rain, the tires slurped mud and spattered it onto the fenders. In bad harmony, Dad and I would sing "The Mud Song," gleefully stretching out the vowels:
Mud, mud, gloooooorious MUUUUUD!
Nothing quite like it for SOOOOOTHING the blood.
So follow me, foooooollow—down to the HOOOOLLOW,
And there we will WAAAALLOW in GLOOORIOUS....GLOOORIOUS, mud!
The air was sweet with springtime, birds sang, and for me at age two, sitting on the back of dad's bike, life couldn't get much better.
For two years, when I was two and three, Dad pedaled me to Colonial Park on every nice afternoon. We had a special route along the river, across the bridge, and through the unfinished housing development in Somerset, New Jersey where builders had made dirt roads and homesites and then temporarily abandoned the project.
"Why aren't they making the houses anymore, Daddy?" I would ask, as we passed vacant lots of flowers and brush.
"Because the economy stinks, Sara!"
I would giggle. "Why does the 'conomy stink, Daddy?"
My father would explain that we were in a recession; that something called "capitalism" wasn't working as well as some idiots thought it would, and that the house-builders didn't have the money to finish the development, which would be ugly anyway.
Although I was three years old now, I wasn't too worried about the effects of capitalism. I was snug on the back of dad's bike, and I thought trees and black-eyed-susans were better than houses anyway.
Then we'd get to the playground and, capitalism forgotten, I'd jump off the bike and play on the old, red-painted concrete turtle. The turtle was multipurpose—good for climbing, hiding, and sitting—and it was my favorite thing in the playground.
Riding home, I'd be tired and sometimes quiet, lulled by the rhythm of the wheels and dad's pedaling. I couldn't see over him but I'd look to the sides and watch things speed by. Twelve m.p.h. was just fast enough, and all through the year, I'd watch the scenery change with the seasons; I'd watch the ducks migrating, the trees budding and later turning gold and red. We always rode the same way, but the views were constantly shifting and growing and changing like I was.
Each night after our ride I'd fall asleep, unaware that fourteen years later I'd be riding my bike much farther than Colonial Park. I'd be admiring flowers and learning about capitalism and playing with turtles on that future trip, but my seventeen-year-old self wouldn't have the security of dad pedaling me to a familiar place in an old brown bike seat. Back then, I took that security for granted.