JOIE DE VIVRE is a memoir about Diane's Dad.
In 2011 she entered it in Doorways Memoir-writing contest.
It was one of the winners.
JOIE DE VIVRE
(The Joy of Living)
Diane E. Robertson
"Who’s that old guy riding your bike?”
Old guy? I came out of my fog and glared at the fresh-mouthed grad student by my side. “He’s not old. He’s my dad!” I returned my attention to my 75-year-young father, and held my breath as he slowly navigated my 10-speed along the bike path’s edge.
As he cut into the onrush, Dad shouted, “Don’t worry, honey. I’ll see you later.” And he was off and riding.
It was 1982. The air was unusually humid on the Santa Barbara campus, yet Dad still wore his tan sports jacket and dress slacks, brown socks and shiny brown street shoes. I hoped that his handsome trousers wouldn’t be grease-stained when he returned. But that was the least of my concerns.
As I watched him pedal across campus toward the beach, I thought about the hill he’d descend—along with the rest of the throng—to get there. The bike would gather speed. The hill was super-steep. Would Dad make it to the bottom in one piece? I’d have to wait and see.
I found a shady spot at the outdoor café and settled in with an iced coffee. It tasted delicious. I took a deep breath as a smile washed over me and lightened my mood. I recognized that I felt protective of Dad. We’d come full-circle.
He was born in Aberdeen, Scotland; the youngest of four. His dad and older brothers opened a large store in Upper Kirkgate, off Crown Street, where they sold and repaired bicycles, gramophones, sewing machines, and baby carriages.
“In nineteen-seventeen, I turned ten,” Dad had once told me. “My folks gave me a Victor three-speed bicycle for my birthday. A luggage carrier was attached to the rear fender, and every day, I’d run lunch up to the shop for Dad and the boys.”
As I watched his face that day, I saw a new sparkle in his eyes. I grasped that he was, momentarily, back in Aberdeen, reliving a special time in his life. I tried to visualize him as a boy of ten scooting around on his bike. I couldn’t do it.
In 1926, Dad and his family boarded a Cunard steamship in Liverpool, England, and sailed to America to start a new life. Dad eventually became a United States citizen and joined the Army, where he began a lifelong career. Several years later, he met Mom in the Berkshires of Massachusetts and they married. In the early 1940s, Dad’s career blossomed, and my brother and sister were born. During that busy period, Dad had no time for reflecting on Aberdeen or bicycling.
I came along in the 1950s. The war was over and America looked forward to a bright future with a thriving economy. For the most part, Mom and Dad bought me whatever I wanted. However, they stood firm on one point—I would inherit my sister’s ancient Schwinn. It was rusty, crusty, painted a dull maroon, and the back fender was bent. I was humiliated. All the other kids had brand new shiny bikes with training wheels. I hated being different.
Yet, the memory that stands far and above my two-wheeler is the person who rushed home from work every night to patiently teach me to ride it. After dinner on those warm summer evenings, we’d head outside to our long driveway. I’d hop on my bike, and Dad would gently rest one hand on my shoulder while gripping the rear edge of the bike seat with the other. Then he’d slowly push me forward as the front wheel wobbled and I hollered, “Dad, don’t let go!”
“Don’t worry, honey. I gotcha.”
My trust in him ran deep. I knew he wouldn’t let me fall. As he pushed faster, my confidence grew a speck, then a thimbleful. One evening, I realized that Dad had let go; I was pedaling on my own. “Dad, look at me!”
“I’m watching, and you never looked better!”
Soon, I was off and riding on my own. I was a short, chubby kid who moved slowly by foot. But when I jumped on my bike, I flew fast and free like the wind. Nobody could catch me.
Years later, I moved to Santa Barbara with my husband. Our community abounded with bike paths, so we bought 10-speeds and learned our way around on two wheels. We pedaled to work each day. I cycled to the grocery store and carried my parcels home in a knapsack. On weekends, we took exhilarating day trips around our glorious environs. We loved our fabulous, yet simplified, lifestyle. It was a great way to stay in shape and unwind from our hectic schedules.
On one of our memorable vacations, we motored north to Napa Valley with our bicycles secured on the back of our car. When we arrived at our destination, a wonderful bed and breakfast inn, we rested well. The next morning, after eating scrumptious cheese and mushroom omelets along with fresh strawberries and strong coffee, we set off on our bikes to tour wine country. What a gorgeous ride! Yet, the weather was feverishly hot and we quickly drained our water bottles. We must’ve been quite a sight as we got off our bikes at each stop, dripping with sweat. There we were, visiting some of the finest wineries in California, yet instead of vino, we requested glasses of icy cold water.
I suddenly returned to the present moment and scanned the nearly deserted café. A glance at my watch told me an hour had passed since Dad cycled away. My iced coffee was now history. Should I call out the campus police to find my father? Probably not. I had heard no sirens as I sat, recalling precious memories.
Suddenly that familiar voice called out, “Honey, I’m back!”
I looked around to see Dad, and relief flooded me. He was in one piece, after all. And he looked deeply tanned. How could that happen in one hour? And why did I only burn? I continued to look further. Besides new coloring, his eyes twinkled and his face glowed with contentment. In fact, his entire being overflowed with a fresh joie de vivre. He must’ve picked it up on his ride. I leapt from my seat and hugged him. “Oh Dad, you’re something else!”
He gave me a bear hug and released me. As I observed him park my bike, something on his trouser legs caught my eye. I centered in and chuckled softly. Both cuffs were black with grease.
Dad turned around and walked toward me. “Why are you watching me? Do I look funny or something?”
I gave him the once-over. Was he an old guy? I shook my head. “No, Dad,” I told him. “You look great. In fact, you never looked better.”