The Time Machine
By Cathy Cowing for Next Avenue
To help me cope with the pandemic, my husband bought me a time machine. It was delivered by a FedEx worker. We pulled out the staples securing the container and were met with the smell of grease and rubber as we lifted out the mint green metal frame, two white-walled tires and a shiny, chrome handlebar.
I hadn't gone online to order a time machine; I went to purchase a bicycle. I haven't ridden in 40 years, so I expected my husband to grumble about the treadmills bought but never used. What a surprise when he said, "I think you need a lifeline. Let me buy it for you."
He was right. This pandemic has been hard. We are fortunate compared to so many others, and yet the pain of separation from our children and grandchildren is intense. That I could still lose someone I love weighs on me and I feel isolated and sad.
As we put the bicycle together, the first inkling that we were building a time machine struck me. Memories rolled over me of a Christmas morning in 1959: the six-year-old me, in pajamas, thrilled when my father rolled a shiny blue bicycle out from behind the tree.
As I locked down bolts on this new bike, I could see the 30-year-old version of my father, up late on Christmas Eve, putting together a bicycle for his little girl. I tightened the seat with tears clouding my eyes.
As I readied myself for my first senior ride, I worried that I wouldn't remember what to do. I strapped on the helmet, got up on the seat and pushed off.
It felt awkward, I turned too sharp out of the driveway, but then my father's voice filled my head. I was transported back to that early spring day on the hill in our yard. Dad showed me how to get on the bike, gave me instructions and then a big push and I was off.
When I fell, he made me get up and keep going. "Let the bike do the work. No matter what, keep peddling," he said. Soon I was a really good rider. Over the weeks since I got my new bike, with Dad riding with me, I have become a good rider again.
I go out every day on my mint green time machine. As I push off, the pandemic disappears and as I peddle along, the years fly away.
I am transported back to the 1980s when I am once again teaching my children to ride their bikes. I linger there feeling close to them. Then, I ride further back into the 1960s, where I join my brothers as we explore the world.
And I continue to ride until I am, once more, that exuberant six-year-old careening down the hill, hair flying wildly behind her, peddling for all she is worth, while her father calls out words of encouragement. Call it a bicycle or a time machine. It is indeed a lifeline.
Cathy Cowing is a 68-year-old family historian, genealogist and part-time college history professor. "My husband and I live in Little Egg Harbor, NJ. Our children all live in northern New Jersey, about a 2-hour drive from us. I spend my time hunting for ancestors, teaching others how to do the same, and video phoning every day with my four-year old granddaughter. I heard about the Next Avenue story contest through a writing group I belong to for seniors called Time to Tell."