"Bessie"


When I was a little girl, I used to visit my grandmother in a small New England town during summer vacations from school. My grandmother had a wonderful, somewhat older, neighbor who never drove a car, but instead bicycled everywhere she went. Each morning, Bessie, as she was affectionately called by her many friends, was in the habit of riding her bicycle fifteen miles round trip to the market. A large, wire basket attached to the bike's handle bars provided a way for her to transport her groceries home.

On her daily trip, Bessie always took the same route, which she happily called her scenic route, for it was down a narrow dirt road, through a small grove of willows, along side a picturesque creek. Very few others ever used the road, and it was pretty much thought of as Bessie's route.

I knew about the route because she used to let me accompany her on my own bike as long as I could keep up with her, would keep my mouth shut, and would not try to engage her in conversation. Those were her conditions. She said, if I talked to her, then she could not hear her "God-talk". To Bessie, her God-talk meant hearing God speak to her through the singing of the birds, the babbling of the little creek, and the rustling of the wind through the willows. I abided by her rules, and learned to enjoy the peace and tranquility of those quiet, early morning bike rides.

As I got older, I began to understand better what Bessie meant by her God-talks, and I used to think I could hear God speaking as I rode along beside her. These bicycle rides became one of the highlights of my summer visits to my grandmother's house, which continued on throughout my teenage years.

When I reached college age, I no longer spent my summer vacations at my grandmother's house, and as years passed, I spent less and less time there. I became busy of course, pursuing the usual adult desires for career, marriage, children, home, family, etc.

After many years, my sweet grandmother passed away, and the responsibility of settling her estate fell on my shoulders. This necessitated my return to her home and the scenes of those wonderful childhood vacations. It was not without a lot of nostalgia that I sorted through my grandmother's things and revisited the old haunts I had loved and treasured so many years before.

The bicycle route that Bessie and I used to travel had now become a six-lane highway; the country creek had dried up and disappeared; the willow grove had been replaced with new, modern condominiums. As I drove down Bessie's old route in my car - no more bike - I could not help but wonder about old Bessie, who, if she was still alive, would be in her nineties.

I wondered if she had been around when her beautiful bicycle route was done away with and, if so, what she had done about the loss of her God-talks. She would have missed those so....

I parked my car on a side street and walked over to her old house. Though somewhat dilapidated and badly in need of a coat of paint, it was still there. As I approached the front porch, the sight that met my eyes was almost unbelievable. For there was Bessie in one corner of the porch, perched on a stationary bicycle, slowly and determinedly moving her feet up and down on its pedals. Bless her heart, she was still bike riding.

I called "Bessie!" She did not turn her head to my voice. As I came closer, I saw, through the flying wisps of her snow white hair, two hearing aids, one affixed to either side of her head. Oh, dear, I thought sadly, even if her route had still been intact, poor Bessie could no longer hear her beloved God-talks.

Rounding the corner of the porch, I saw there was a book stretched open across the center of the bike's handle bars. It was propped up and supported by Bessie's left hand. Her right hand was securely holding on to the right handle bar for her own support. The book appeared to have a black, pliable cover, and there was no doubt what book it was. Of course, it was Bessie's Bible. I felt a lump in my throat, and tears brimmed over my eyes.

Once more, I loudly called, "Bessie!" She looked over the top of her glasses at me, and I saw the recognition in her eyes. Then she smiled, removed her hand from the Bible, raised her index finger to her now pursed lips, and said quite audibly, "Sh-h-h". I knew at once she was listening to her God-talks.

I smiled back, quietly sat down on her front steps and waited patiently for her to finish her trip. I still remembered the rules. I wouldn't have interrupted her God-talks for anything.

Virginia (Ginny) Ellis
©2000


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