My mother was a lovely woman: graceful, reserved, maybe even a little bit shy until she got to know you. And although I know I am not entirely like her (because I’m much more of an extrovert and I enjoy a good curse … on occasion), I’ve always thought I carried on some of her positive attributes. When I was little, it was important to my mother that my sister and I learn a thing or two about being polite and generous and modest. She and my father sent us to the Columbus School for Girls, in Columbus, Ohio, whose motto was “Women by birth, ladies by choice.” (I kid you not…) I graduated from CSG; Maura did not. That’s another story, though.
My cousins Sheri and Susan once described my mother as “regal.” “When your family came, it was like royalty was visiting. Your mother was so proper, and you and Maura were so perfect. You made us look bad.” It’s true. We ate with our napkins in our laps, our left hands in our laps, our right hands holding the forks. We did not speak unless spoken to. We asked please, said thank you, cleared up.
As an adult, I wouldn’t say I’ve been quite so genteel. Even before this trip, the closest I ever got to regal was the height of the heel I’m willing to wear: maybe 1″ max. I’m sure that, in that regard, I’m at least a little bit like HRH Elizabeth. Otherwise, I’ve always been a little too loud, a little too baudy. Oh well. My mother loved me, even when I stopped being prim.
On this trip, though, I’m unrecognizable. Early on, I might have tried to be a little bit subtle if I needed to adjust my shorts for better comfort, while standing on the side of the road. No longer! I have no shame about such adjustments – comfort is my guide. I will de-wedgy my shorts, and I have learned to blow my nose while riding, without the benefit of a tissue. To spit, when necessary, if a bug flies into my mouth. To take a trip into the woods, in an emergency. The jar of butt balm is no longer full. (Also, I say things like “butt balm.”)
Would my mother be ashamed? Would she feel she had failed? I don’t really think so. The “by choice” part of CSG’s motto is important. When I get back home, I’ll likely choose, once again, to be a somewhat more ladylike version of myself. (Most of the time, as much as I ever did…) But on the bike? I’m pretty sure that even Audry Hepburn would need to spit occasionally, rather than swallow that bug at fifteen miles an hour. I’m also quite sure that my mom would be thrilled that I am having such a remarkable adventure.