“Let’s take a bike ride!”
Dad liked to ride bikes along the golf course road before dinner some nights. Since our house was one of the first built on this new course on the outskirts of Ft. Lauderdale, he enjoyed checking out all the new home sites rising up from those scrubby sand lots.
He had his English racing bike painted rusty brown and equipped with impressive toe harnesses on the spiky corrugated pedals. My brother had his banana- seat high-handlebar Easy Rider thrasher. My younger brother still had a fire engine red tricycle so he was stuck rolling around the driveway in circles under Mom’s watchful eye.
And I had my brand new shiny purple Schwinn girl’s bike with the saddle bag baskets over the rear tire.
“Ready to go? Where’s your bike?”
It was my birthday present and I hated it.
All my friends had ten-speed boy’s bikes with handle bar brakes. I asked for one of those. But somewhere my request got lost in translation, or Dad got a good deal, and I was burdened with a prissy purple Schwinn girl’s bike. It had only one speed and to stop I had to brake by backpedalling.
I was expected to ride that pixie dust and moonbeam mess to the school bus stop every morning, lock it up, and then ride it home every afternoon along with everybody. I felt like a sparkly unicorn leaving a slip stream of rainbows amidst a herd of sleek racehorses. It was humiliating.
But the purple Schwinn was gone. And, I only just then remembered what happened to it.
“Where’s your bike?”
Half way home that afternoon, the chain fell off the purple Schwinn and made me fall down. I was miffed and had two skinned knees to show. So I left it by the side of the road and walked home. I meant to tell Mom right away but forgot. I was easily distracted at that age by things like snacks, cartoons or dust particles floating in sunbeams. And looking back, I wonder if it was semi-subconsciously on purpose to forget about it. I just put it out of my mind. Now I had to ‘fess up.
Bike ride cancelled, Dad loaded me into his car and we went to pick the purple Schwinn up. But, oops, it was gone. Stolen. Apparently a shiny new purple Schwinn lying on the side of the road for three hours was too much temptation for those so inclined.
“Oh no, Dad! It’s gone. Gosh! Darn! Shoot! Maybe we can get a new ten-speed boy’s bike with handlebar brakes for me now?”
He gave me the “look.” It’s the one perfected by every pissed-off disappointed Dad since time began. He cleared his throat and issued the edict in a measured, yet intimidating, tone -
“You could not take care of the bike you had and you think we’re going to just run straight out buy you a damn new one? No. Now you will be walking…everywhere.”
Thus began my wilderness weeks of walking across wet golf course grass and vacant lots prickling with sticker burrs in the dank Florida heat to and from the bus stop. Much of the trek was spent swatting clouds of mosquitoes that lay in wait to chew me up and suck me dry.
No matter how much time I spent on my grooming each day, I always arrived to school a disheveled wreck with pie plate sized pit stains and soaking wet saddle shoes speckled with golf course grass. After school, I pretended I didn’t care as I watched all my friends hop on their ten-speeds and zoom off to 7-ll for Slurpees and penny candy. Or to the pier. Or the community pool. I was left to slog home, sweaty and downtrodden. I cried a lot. But only when no one could see. I still had my pride.
Nights I lay in bed and listened to tree frogs chirp in the eucalyptus trees. On my transistor radio a woman with an airy quavering voice trilled a song: “Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone…” I fervently wished, even prayed, that my purple Schwinn would miraculously appear in the garage sparkling loyally waiting for me to wheel her out and ride. But no amount of wishing was going to fix it and surely Jesus had more important things to think about.
One day Dad stuck his head in while I was moping and reading in my room.
“Come on out here a minute.”
I spent a significant amount of effort dodging Dad’s attention during this time. So when he actually addressed me directly, I jumped like a cricket following him to the driveway where he was pulling something out of the trunk of his car.
“Fix this up if you want. One of my patients was going to throw it away, but maybe you might want it? There’s sandpaper in the workshop…”
It was a relic. Rusty from handlebars to wheel rim, this thing was a flaking stinking disaster. An ancient crone of a broken down girl’s beach bike, she was a beast. No ten-speed derailleur here, no handlebar brakes. She was fat all over, including the tires. And they were flat.
I was never so grateful as I was at that very moment.
For days, with help from Mom and Dad, I worked on her. I sandpapered all the rust off and found that she had at one time sported black paint. I soaked her rusty chain in Coca Cola and oiled it, used my saved up birthday money to get the bulbous white-wall tires repaired, and buffed up her pitted chrome parts to a righteous shine. I found an old chamois cloth and sewed a new seat cover. A smooth coat of black enamel Rust-o-leum paint finished her makeover and a white wicker basket garlanded with purple flowers strapped to the handlebars added a surprise feminine touch. She was a proud dowager wearing her Sunday hat in the islands; the flowers an homage to the long lost purple Schwinn.
She wasn’t pretty, but she was mine. And she could roll. Big and powerful, I could speed along just as fast as a ten-speed. Better than a ten speed too, I found out, was not having to fiddle with all the levers and pulleys. I just stood up on those pedals and rode like the wind.
The kids with fancy racing bikes were superior in every way, and they let me know it. But somehow I shook it off and just appreciated that big beast of a bike. My big beast of a bike.I think Dad had me figured out.
I love you, Dad.
Click on titles for more family stories starring Dr. Dad:
Dad Creates a Stir
Golf Course Gorts
Dad and the Purple Schwinn
And from Dr. Dad’s sister, Aunt Polly: