Angels still wedging way into my thoughts

Writer’s note: Column-writing night found me surveying course maps and prepping for my first full marathon, which takes place this weekend. So here’s the column that ran in the May 12, 2011, issue of the Tribune. I’ll be back next week with a post-race report.

The little old man on the blue bike won’t leave me alone. He’s been riding around in my head since I spotted him peddling down a shady Hastings street in the summer of 1996.

I never actually saw him off that bike, but he appeared to be about as tall and heavy as a short drink of water. He was a working man, with thick-soled shoes of the type you see on assembly lines, or pushing a broom over gymnasium floors. His blue button-down shirt was faded and his dark twill pants were worn, but he looked pressed and tended just the same. Tinted safety glasses adorned his weathered face, and his crown was a short-brimmed ball cap with an illegible patch on the front and a pom-pom on top.

His ride was a massive, no nonsense bubble- tired two-wheeler you might find buried in your grandpa’s barn, with chrome fenders, a wide padded seat, and a wire basket on the front. The bike complained as it ambled along; a metallic grinding click as though its trick knee was acting up. The old man gripped the handlebars with purpose, and his gaze never wandered to check the state of lazy dogs or flower beds as he went about his way.

I have no idea of the man’s identity, where he came from or where he was headed on that behemoth bike. He just seemed to appear wherever I was, at the oddest of times and places; the grocery store, the sandwich shop, and the gas station. I named him “Oscar the Guardian Angel,” and kept watch for him when I was out and about.

I found his presence oddly comforting, and I pondered what his life might be like. I imagined he smelled of axle grease in summer and wood smoke in winter. Mrs. Oscar Angel would be cooking dinner in a small, tidy house with a bed of geraniums and a birdbath in back. The place smelled of cookies, and had a pink tiled bathroom with rose embroidered towels. I’d bet they had children; daughters grown and long ago moved away to start families of their own. Pictures of grandchildren shared space with a grocery list and utility bill, all stuck to the fridge with lady bug magnets.

I imagined the Angels sitting in a church pew; her holding a hymnal and him gripping his hat while he listened to rain dancing on a stained glass window. After the service they’d dine on ham sandwiches and potato salad, turn on a ball game and wait for the children to call. If the rain stopped and the sun came out, Oscar would ride his bike to Fisher Fountain to watch its dancing waters from a park bench.

I considered interrupting Oscar’s appointed rounds to introduce myself and see how close my musings hit their mark, but part of me was content to leave well enough alone. Besides, there’s a good chance he’d have called the cops and had me carted away as a lunatic stalker. Oscar entertained me for a couple of years, before his blue bike suddenly vanished from the streets of Hastings. I don’t know what happened to him; whether he and Mrs. Angel moved closer to their daughters, or if he flew off to ride bikes with the Lord. Either way I miss him still.

I always thought that if I wrote my someday book, it would be set in a small city that looks a lot like Hastings, with characters like the Angels. People need places and faces like that to help them find their way in the grand scheme of life. Until that book sees the light of day, I’ll leave you with the image of a man and woman enjoying the warm breeze from their porch swing perch, and a big blue bike leaning against the rail.

Tamera Schlueter

Tam Schlueter adopts a "strike-fast-and-keep-them-laughing" approach to writing. Her column appears every Thursday in the Hastings Tribune, and showcases the wonder of family, dogs, muscle cars, and folks with blue collars and no-nonsense attitudes.

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