“Mama, I’m scared. I don’t wanna fall!” I cried out as my petite grandmother assured me that I could ride the new blue bike my aunt had bought for my birthday. It was pretty – blue with a black and white saddle seat. It looked pretty fast and I could probably beat all of the kids on my block. But there was one problem. I was too afraid to climb on the bike now that my dad had removed the training wheels.
I felt fine as long as I had the security of those two small wheels – one on each side. There was Mama Bert trying to convince me that I could handle it on my own. As I stood, tugging on my pony tails and fidgeting with the bottom of my t-shirt, I wondered how I was going to get outof this.
“Come on baby, you’ll be fine. Grandmama’s right here. You know I won’t let anything happen to you,” she said with a smile on her face.
I knew this was true. If there was anyone who would catch me if I fell, it would be Mama Bert.
Mama Bert was my mother’s mother. She had been independent as long as I could remember. Now seven years old, I never saw Mama Bert ask anybody for anything. She didn’t work anymore. She worked in housekeeping at the Book Cadillac Hotel, downtown. But that ended when she lost her eyesight from glaucoma.
That didn’t stop her from making up her own beds with thesheets pulled so tight you could bounce a coin on them. She was always cleaning. We always said you could eat off her floors, which is amazing for anyone and especially a blind woman.
Mama Bert never said she was blind. She didn’t like the word ‘handicapped.’ She would say “I don’t see that.” Standing at 5 feet 0 inches, weighing 110 pounds, she was so strong. She took care of her household and you’d better not bother her family, especially me.
At seven years old. I didn’t think it was strange to have a best friend 42 years older. I could tell her any and everything and she’d give me advice. If she didn’t know what I was talking about, she’d say “tell Grandmama and help me understand.” Once I explained the back story, she always knew the right things to say.
Today, I wasn’t so sure. If anyone knew me, it was Mama Bert. She knew I was afraid of falling and that was definitely going to happen if I got on that bike without the training wheels.
“I’ll teach you how to ride. Then, you can get on after me,” she said. I knew she was kidding. How was she going to teach me to ride a bike? I know she never called herself blind. But there was no way she could ride a bike without hurting herself and I wasn’t having that!
Suddenly, I looked up from daydreaming and to my surprise, there was Mama Bert, riding my bike down the sidewalk and she didn’t fall. “Hey Mama!! Wait!” I yelled as I ran behind her, laughing. I grabbed the back of the seat before she could veer off into the neighbor’s front yard.
We laughed and laughed. “I told you Grandmama was going to teach you how to ride,” she said, laughing and panting from her brief stride. I couldn’t believe it.
“Okay, okay, Mama. If you can ride the bike, I guess I can try,” I said, still laughing.
“That’s right baby. A try always beats a failure. Now give Mama a hug and let’s ride this bike back home. I’ll be walking right alongside you.”
I got on the bike and although a little wobbly, Mama Bert walked swiftly alongside, holding on to the back of the seat and this day, both Mama Bert and I took turns riding my bike until I got the hang of it. This was a day I’d never forget.
Mama Bert was an incredible fan of R&B music. Please enjoy the Mama Bert Playlist as we celebrate what would have been her 99th birthday. (Alberta Batchelor April 6, 1920 – June 4, 2008) . https://open.spotify.com/user/mikkib715/playlist/6RzK6bYcZaNEgGgENODRzy?si=uhQq_ZE-SVyDw15fOlXlkw
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