I recently acquired a Schwinn bicycle. It is my new project. As happens with these types of projects, the restoration itself sometimes decides the the path of the restorer. My plan is to restore the bike to some form of its original glory. It is increasingly evident to me that the bike has different plans. Even as this process begins, it is impossible to tell you where this journey might lead. This restoration is like hopping on a plane and traveling to another country because it reveals things about me that I had rarely given much thought. That is why I love story. A good story turns the reader’s eyes inward.
With the risk of sounding like the main character in the movie Christine, the project has already begun to uncover some of my own shortcomings. Notice I’m hesitant to call the bike “old”, if only because it belonged to my mother-in-law. I joke about being “old”, myself, or “being on the steep end of my downward spiral into the grave”. Both of these are not yet true, but they would likely be true were I to start spouting off about this ancient Schwinn that my mother-in-law received from her mother when she was a teenager.
But here is the thing. My mother-in-law is at the stage in life where she is beginning to downsize into a more manageable home and quickly expunge years of inevitable clutter. Clutter that one accumulates over the course of their lives. In part, this makes me sad because I remember my grandmother beginning this stage in her life after I went to college. I remember how she took control having seen so many before her attempt to hold on dearly to the clutter that they had collected. I admired how she did this, but I remember the feeling of loss when she finally sold the home she had lived in for so many years. For a long time, she collected things. Now, she was simplifying.
In the case of this bicycle, my mother-in-law was ready to get rid of it. On one hand, I don’t blame her. But, on the other hand, I just couldn’t quite let her do that. I started thinking about how nice it might be for my daughter to ride that bike knowing that her great-grandmother had gifted it to her grandmother. She may not appreciate this at the age of eight, but I have a hope that there will be a moment where she will appreciate it.
I have a sense of how important it is to be able to connect to the past and understand it in its context. I believe that family connection is important and being able to connect across generations reminds us of our roots. It reminds us that we would not be where we are today if not for the resilience of an ancestor who managed to survive long enough to yield to the next generation. The same strength and determination of those who made footprints in the dirt, cut paths through the wilderness, then built roads and bent steel is present in us today. It is in the contrast between our ancestors and who we are today that we understand where we are going and what we hope to become.
It is not so much the object itself as it is the fabric of what it represents. Knowing that I want my daughter to have some of the same strength and determination and resilience as her ancestors drives me to action. That my hope for her is that she continue to develop into a strong, independent, young woman. That she have the drive to make real change in the world and she remain steadfast in what she believes. That despite any failures in her ancestral line, that she will make a new way for herself that tips a hat to the past, but also continues to progress forward. For me, that is the importance of being connected. For this, I’m happy to be a supportive curator.
Schwinn’s a Beaut
On a side note, I originally began this post referring to the Schwinn with a feminine pronoun. I was going to try and justify the reference with the fact that it is a women’s bike. This sent me off on a journey about whether or not referencing inanimate objects as women is offensive. That taught me about myself, too, I guess. It taught me about how I am gradually being refined as a person. That, invariably, I still say things that probably unintentionally offend, It taught me that the world is like a course ball of steel wool constantly rubbing at my rough edges, claiming the layers of rust and grime and making unrefined parts of me gleam again. I hope that there is enough steel wool in the world for that.