Last week Sheelagh — my first-ever volunteer reader — and her friend Beni came from Northern Ireland to spend 8 days in Chicago with us. Sheelagh was an exchange student from Belfast when I met her in Urbana, IL in 1986. She’d signed up for volunteer work at the University of Illinois to “meet people from the community.” They sent her to me, and we’ve been friends ever since.
Sheelagh gets around – I visited her twice while she was living in Berlin, twice in Italy and twice in Northern Ireland. She’s come back to the US to visit us in our various homes, too — in Urbana, in the Chicago suburbs, and in North Carolina. There‘s something special about Sheelagh. We always have fun together, no matter what we do.
Note: Mike rolls his eyes any Time I introduce Sheelagh to someone and claim she was my first volunteer reader. “She only read to you once!” he always says. If I lower my eyebrows and look his way, though, he backpedals. “Okay, twice. ”
It’s true. My white-cane skills were terrible when I met Sheelagh. I was a new mother then, and I hadn’t yet trained with a Seeing Eye dog. I liked being read to, but what I needed more than anything was to simply get out of the house. So when Sheelagh arrived to read, I’d tie Gus to my chest in his snuggly, grab her arm, and we’d head off for coffee somewhere instead. Or we’d put the baby in the buggy (she called it a “pram”), and I’d hold onto the side as Sheelagh pushed on to the grocery store. On our return, Gus would be surrounded with our purchases. When we were feeling especially adventurous, Sheelagh and I would get out the tandem, put Gus in the baby seat, and take off.
When Sheelagh arrived in Chicago last week, she was amazed to see that very same “Schwinn Twinn” parked in the living room of our loft apartment. “That bicycle was old when we rode it 22 years ago!” Schwinn Twinns were built by Schwinn Bicycle Company in Chicago from the 1950s to the 1970s. The tandems came in two different models — the single speed Twinn and the five speed Deluxe Twinn. We’ve got a red Deluxe — Oo la la!
And so, somewhere in-between the Frank Lloyd Wright House tour in Oak Park, the day trip to Andersonville , lunch at Hamburger Mary’s, the play in Lakeview, cheering on the Chicago Marathon runners, jazz at Andy’s, Millennium park, Cajun food at Heaven on Seven, nightly visits to Hackney’s and going to hear my friend Marcus’ gospel choir on Chicago’s south side not just once but, twice, well…in the midst of all that, somehow we managed to meet some of our neighbors for a Saturday early morning bike ride along lake Michigan. (Make sure to check out our action video at the bottom of the page, courtesy of Beni.)
Sheelagh and I surprised ourselves. We took off relatively smoothly. It was just like, well, like riding a bike! A highlight for me came when Sheelagh suddenly had to swerve around a pedestrian on a cell phone –the woman darted out, not even noticing. The near-miss gave me the opportunity to hear Sheelagh utter one of my favorite Irish expressions. “Bloody hell!”
I have always loved biking. One of the many heartaches of losing my sight was giving up the beautiful blue Peugeot bicycle Mike had given me for my 25th birthday. I lost my sight the next year.
Mike to the rescue– again! Perched on the backseat of the second-hand Schwinn Twinn he bought for us after I retired my Peugeot, I chit-chat and enjoy the same breezes, sounds and fresh air my pilot does. Heaven.
Check out our action video: