Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Small town rites of passage

There were two skills that guaranteed childhood (semi) independence and your ability to participate in just about anything worth doing. Two small-town skills: being able to ride your bike and being able to swim.

Once you developed the skill and trust to set out on your 20-inch dirt bike, you owned Oxford. Ride to Doc's Quick Shop in the morning, or evening, and it was all there. From the "Bajas" tracks and jumps on the hardened clay dredged from Town Creek to town-wide bike tag; from Little League practice to swimming at the Ferry Dock.

And that's where marketable skill number two comes in. Oxford is surrounded by water on three sides. From the park, to the yacht club, Ferry Dock or Strand--there is always a beach, dock, or some other means of getting to the water. I don't remember anyone growing up in or around the town that didn't learn how to swim. If there was such a kid, they must have been hermitted up in an attic.

Almost any rite of passage involved bike riding or swimming. Two of the more ill-advised bike treks I can recall involved, having just turned 12, following the gastronomic impulse of a friend who had a Big Mac Attack and the two of us rode the 12-or-so miles from Oxford to the Easton McDonalds. And the second was a habit we had of racing (behind) the bug spraying truck through town.

This is the kind of stuff that frequently bubbles to surface consciousness for me as both our girls first choice of outdoor activities are bike riding and swimming. That's what they want to do, almost anytime asked. It's a different area and era, yet the tendencies are the same.

There is something about the smile, the eyes, the joy that emanates from them, not just the first time they keep themselves afloat or ride without falling, but every time they hit the water or pedal fast down the street.

I look at them and I get it. It's not just that I remember the feeling, I still get it, particularly doing either or both with Anna and Ava. Maybe riding your bike or swimming is the key to childhood. Maybe they are the key to keeping your inner-child alive. Either way, look for our bikes in front of Doc's (now known as the Oxford Market) or at the park on weekends and this summer. Now if I could just find what they did with the Bajas...


Kelly said...

this is a great post. so true.

Michael Valliant said...

Thanks, Kelly!