Nine-year-old Alice Willey did not suffer fools easily or at all. Therefore, I was quite touched when she offered to teach this fool how to ride a two-wheeler.

I didn’t happen to have a bike, which complicated things a bit. Alice said I’d better get one pretty soon, she didn’t have all summer and, since I was 8 years old already, what was I waiting for?

Did I mention that Alice was not very patient?

I told my mother of my pressing need. She watched the paper for used bikes. Finally there was a girl’s bike for sale on Channel Road, not far from our place. It was a Schwinn with balloon tires and the price was 15 bucks.

We trudged down Shore Preble Street, into the classy neighborhood called Loveitts Field in South Portland, My mother looked at the bike, said it needed paint and offered the lady $10. She took it.

A good thing too, since it was all that my mother was about to pay for a used two-wheeler that needed paint.

We walked the bike home. It was heavier than I thought it would be. On the way, we stopped by Alice’s place to set up a training date. When Alice showed up, I asked where we should go for my lessons. “The Fort, you ninny,” was her terse reply.

Did I mention that Alice did not waste words?

The sidewalk on Officers’ Row was chosen and Alice “had at it,” so to speak. The bike felt massive. It outweighed me. It outsmarted me. Over and over again, I fell.

I finally said I was going home. Alice said no. I cried. Alice said no. My knees and elbows bled. Still Alice said no.

Did I mention that Alice never gave up?

Then it happened. That magic moment when everyone who ever learned to ride a bike “gets it.” What was impossible one moment became a never-to-be-forgotten skill the next.

I don’t know which one of us was happiest. I tried to drape myself over Alice in a grateful hug, but she wasn’t having any of that. She just said, “That’s OK, kid. You can buy me a Coke sometime.”

Alice and her sister, Irene, were friends and classmates of mine. Alice was about a year older, but was probably kept at home until Irene was ready for school so they could go together.

Alice dropped out of high school to get married, then moved away. She died while she was still a young mother.

The Class of 1955 at Cape Elizabeth High School held its 55th reunion last month. Seventy percent of the remaining classmates attended. Folks showed up from Texas, Florida, Nevada and Tennessee as well as most of the New England states.

As we grow older, we recall how lucky we were to have grown up in the 1950s, and how lucky those of us who are left to have each other.


– Special to the Telegram