July 4, 2013
Naturally, now that we were handing back the bikes in a couple of days, I had become almost proficient at riding mine. I could do tight circles at walking pace, and come to a dead stop at junctions, look around me, read War and Peace and then move off again, all without putting my feet down. Another million years of this, and I might even be able to go around bends half as fast as Gary did while he was standing on the pegs and taking a photo.
“You are getting better,” he said when I mentioned it. “I actually saw you leaning into a corner the other day.”
Even better, since the BMWs had been so reliable that his duties as Head of Maintenance had involved nothing more than topping up the oil, he actually got a chance to use his mechanical skills later when Richard’s clutch cable snapped and he had it replaced in about four minutes flat.
Clancy had one last mission before his triumphant return to New York, and that was a surprise visit to his parents in their large, rambling home in the wooded Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, and thanks to Richard tracking down the location with some diligent research, the next day we rode out in search of it.
And as we rode these last few miles to the home of Clancy’s parents, I imagined how he must have felt as he too rode this old familiar road through the trees along the river and the railroad tracks.
How his senses must have been filled to the brim, with the same warm sun on his face and the smell of pine in his nose, as he waved to the astonished neighbours at the green mansion, then rode down the hill and turned right into his parents’ drive past the leaning pine and the ancient oak.
How his heart must have swelled with pride and love as he pulled up on the Henderson, with his collar stiff and his tie knotted just so, to see his mother look out from the kitchen where she was preparing lunch, and his father come to the front door from the study where he had been working on a sermon, and to see the same pride and love reflected in their faces at the return of their prodigal son after his incredible adventure.
To see Carl Stearns Clancy, at just that moment a young man with his whole life in front of him, filled with boundless hope and optimism for a future in which, having conquered the world, he could do anything.
We stopped near the same green mansion to check our way, only for a neighbour to tell us that the old Clancy house had become a boys’ home, then burned down mysteriously 10 years ago.
And when we got there, and turned right into the drive past the leaning pine and the ancient oak, all that we found were the stone foundations of the old place in a grassy glade bright with wild poppies and buttercups.
As I stood at the end of the drive, where I imagined Clancy had climbed off his Henderson for a hug from his mother and a firm handshake from the old man, a small white butterfly rested briefly on my boot, then fluttered off into the woods, leaving only the whisper of the breeze in the leaves of the ancient oak and the call of a bluebird hoping for love.