As a kid I often pretended that the mule I liked to ride was a bicycle! That was fun until the day a bolt of lightning scared Jack and he went lickity-split into a low shed that wasn’t tall enough for me, too.
With my face against his sweaty wet neck, I survived unhurt. Mom and Dad decided I needed a bicycle and ordered a beautiful tan and brown girls single-speed from Sears and Roebuck in Kansas City.
I was in heaven, liberated, moving with my own power, at age 9!
When I was a senior in University High School, Virginia Symns and H.Y. Moffett hinted that I might do well in journalism; I took their hints seriously.
Near graduation time I placed second in an Atlantic Monthly college-student essay contest. I was also fiddling for square dances twice a week in private homes for Depression "pin money."
I had outgrown my bicycle, and my interest was mostly in a fellow who was studying electrical engineering.
W.F. "Chub" Gerard took me to Presbyterian Student Association events and to the square dances where I played fiddle.
He was struggling with school, a Depression job and responsibilities at home.
Chub and I had met early in 1931, and we married seven years later, when I was teaching swimming and other sports at Christian College.
Our children, Nancy and Walt, were in New Haven School when we entertained an exchange student from England for a month. Ann wanted us to visit her farm in Sussex.
We couldn’t afford such a thing, but Chub and friends said, "Go anyway!"
Remembering about youth hostels and bicycling in Europe, Nancy, Walt and I did "go anyway!"
We rented three-speed bikes with hand brakes from Lester Ward Co. in London by mail from Columbia. An elderly gentleman from London, probably one of the owners, delivered the bikes to us after dark at the Portsmouth Youth Hostel as planned. He insisted on knowing the inseam pants measurement of each rider, and I didn’t know why until later. The seat height depended on that measurement.
Adult leaders of youngsters were welcome in hostels.
We met young and old from many countries of the world: Australia, Iceland, a group of Russians who didn’t smile or speak, three girls from Japan, one from New Zealand, a lone woman from Poland who had to undergo three separate interviews.
Polish officers accused her of being a spy because she owned a camera; they limited the amount of money she could take out of the country and the length of her visit with her friends!
We corresponded for several years and exchanged candy and food gifts at Christmas times. She sent me the second half of her Communion wafer after each Easter.
Walt had no problem communicating with the shop owners. He asked such good questions at bike shops that the proprietors stopped work to talk and show him around.
Neither Walt nor the proprietors - nor I - realized that this kid would some day own the first complete bike shop in Columbia.
When he was entering grade 11 at University High School, he employed classmates to work part time in Walt’s Bike Shop. He sold it many years later.
One of the English dealers was so excited about meeting American cyclists that he stopped work, went to a storage garage and brought out his antique Pennyfarthing - high wheeler - in a drizzling rain to show how he rode it in a parade the week before.
What a wonderful 63 days we had. Nancy and Walt had no problem writing papers for school that September - about what they did that summer.