Monday, January 18, 2010


As I have said before, I was the last of five children.  Both of my parents worked at a time when most moms were still on site.  My mom tired to make it home before me, but that did not often work out.  All I had to do was let myself into the back yard, pat the slobbering basset and get the key off the back porch.  Even when my mom did make it home, she was generally tired and took a nap before making a big family diner.

We had a system of sorts that made the older children responsible for the younger ones.  The older you were the more power you had over those below.  But the younger you were, the less responsibility you had.  The system worked.  All of us girls… four of us… looked after my brother.  We cleaned his room, did his laundry and if he was hungry, we fed him stuff.  He was responsible for the yard work, unless he was in training for whatever sport he was playing.  Then that became girls work too.  Clearly he was the prince.  But he was a good brother too.  I have no complaint about him.

The worst thing about being the last of five is that my parents were tired and busy.  When I would whine about wanting to learn this or that, my father hired someone.  Art lessons, music lessons (I was awful at music!), YWCA, Red Cross swimming lessons.  Or there were the do it yourself lessons.  My dad was fond of that vein. So when I looked at my older sisters… who all three had matching Hercules 3-speeds and my brother with his goose neck bike, I whined that I wanted a bike.  I wanted to learn how to ride one.

I knew how that was done.  You got on a bike and your dad ran along next to you until you could cruise away on your own.  My dad said… "There are three girls’ bikes out in the trash yard doing nothing. Use one of those."  I looked at them, laying in a tangle half leaned against the trash yard fence.  All the tires were flat.  I reported back the bad news.  He handed me a tire patch kit and told me to use the air compressor.

They were full of cobwebs so I picked one and gave it a bath.  I lucked out when the tires stayed up after adding air.  Back I went into the house to report that the bike and I were now both ready for the lesson.  My dad lowered his paper and looked at me.  “Well, go figure it out.”  He said, snapping his paper back open and getting back to the news.

It took me all day to get to the point where I could stand up and pedal.  I had to stand up.  The seat was too high.  I fell down fairly often, but was good at laying the bike down as I went to minimize damage.  Then came the magic moment when I not only wobbled along, but got to speed up.  I was flying! 

The first corner was scary, but I managed to get around it with only minor correction.  I flew down the back side of the block with the wind tossing my hair.  I was congratulating myself on learning how to ride in just a day, when Mrs. Wynn walked out her door and stood at the corner, waiting for traffic to clear on Whison… one of our busiest streets. Mentally I willed the cars to vanish and urged Mrs. Wynn to get a hustle going.  The cars continued and the old gal didn’t budge.  Crap!  I gripped the hand brakes and squeezed for all I was worth, teeth gritted and bared. 

Nothing.  It had never occurred to me to check the hand brakes.  Never.  I hadn’t really needed them when all I was doing was starting and falling down.  Well shoot… time for a quick prayer before impact.  Miracles do happen.  It felt like one when the traffic cleared and Mrs. Wynn stepped off the curb. I jerked the handlebars left and whizzed around the corner, safe.  This was the short end of the block.  I stopped pedaling and cruised, navigated the last corner and continued to slow as I did the last long side of the block toward home.  When I got to my house, I let the hill of grass in front slow me more… jumped off sideways and hit the ground running.   The bike fell on its side and the rear wheel continued to spin, as I caught my breath and silently thanked God that I’d made it back safe.

I reported my progress to my old man.  My mother beside him said “George, get those brakes fixed tomorrow.”  My father nodded and went back to his paper with a sigh.  Satisfied, because my father always did what my mother said, I began the climb to my room up the stairs.

“Rebecca…” My dad peered at me over the top of his paper. “I better not find that bike lying on the lawn.”  I tromped back down the stairs and opened the door.  “You can bring it up on the porch, but don’t leave it where someone will fall over it.”  I nodded and he stopped me again.  “I’ll make you a deal.  You get straight ‘A’s on your summer school report card and I will buy you any bran new bike you want.”

My dad had a way of making me work hard at things.  Teaching myself to ride the bike was not a bad thing.  I developed confidence and found out the value of being tenacious. Using it to motivate me in school was a master stroke.  I was a very stubborn child.  I did get all A s on my report card that year.  I lost my report card on the way home from the last day of summer school.  I cried when I got home and told my mom I’d lost it and dad would never believe me.  Okay, so he didn’t automatically believe me, but he called the principal who gave him the good news and he came immediately home, taking time off from work to keep his word.  Summer school ended at noon.  By 2:00 I had my bike and it was beautiful.

“I don’t ever want to see it laying on the lawn and you keep it clean or you’ll lose it.” He told me as we pulled into the driveway.  That bike sparkled until I gave it away when I started high school.  I used to think at the time that he was mean as dads went.  Not big on affection.  But looking back I see he made his choices with me according to my personality and what worked on that stubborn kid.  I think he did alright.  He certainly fed my dreams and helped me to become strong enough to handle what life has thrown my way.  

Crosby Stills & Nash - Teach Your Children 1977


  1. Sometimes they just did they best they could - maybe that was true for your Dad?

  2. secret agent woman-- Absolutely. He was a good dad and had a great deal to do with so many of us and so many different personalities. I am thankful for his creativity and effort. Its funny how we don't see it as children, but later as adults we get it at last.

  3. Omigosh. You have such a vivid memory. Your memory allows me to remember things, simple things like learning how to ride my bicycle, making my own skateboard and most importantly, how glorious it could be just to BE a kid.

    Like you, I had to come up with all A's on my report card. I did so on one of my second grade report cards. Remember how we would get those quarterly grades? White cards with things marked off along with grades? You know, like gets along well with others? (not so much in my case) or smells okay to others (not so much in my case). Well, missy, I got those straight A's and off I went to Jones' Variety store and bought myself a Barbie. Not the pony-tailed one but the bubble-haired one. One with red hair and those weird breasts. I digress...

    But it was the bike I dreamed of. I anticipated that bike in a way that only a kid could anticipate something. I wanted a Stingray with a banana boat seat. Well, missy, I waited for that long-drawn-out promised-for-where-the-heck-is-that-bicycle. And waited. And forgot. Until...wait for it comes...Christmas! On Christmas morning I awoke to a J.C. Higgins girls' bicycle. The best J.C. Higgins bike that Sears had to offer Green. Forest green. Two wheels. No training wheels. Training wheels were for gurlz. Forget the Stingray. I had my J.C. Higgins bike.

    Like you, in one day I was riding with the wind in my hair, a song on my lips and smiling like Popeye with a can a spinach. Smiling so hard that I got gnats on my teeth. Smiling so hard that I forgot what it was like not to smile. I'm smiling now.

    Thanks for your post. Thanks for allowing me to remember.

    Think I'll just smile for awhile. I can smile 'cuz I still have that J.C. Higgins forest green girls' bicycle. And I'm still a kid in my dreams.

  4. Peggy-- I laughed right through your comment. Hey, I got the brunette with the striped one-piece that looked like a G street hooker. Those poor nippless breasts!

    I got the stingray... a Shwinn Fairlady. Lavender and white with a white basket with purple silk flowers on it. I even polished the chrome on it with Brasso every weekend.

    Yep, memory holds tight for me. But I can't tell you what I did yesterday until next year sometime. Ha. Long term rules in my head, short term is iffy.

    Wasn't it great to be a kid? I still get to be one at school sometimes. Very cool beans.

  5. Yeah. We can't judge our parents by today's standards. Back then, dads thought their job was to work and put food on the table. They didn't learn how to be emotionally available. I know plenty of guys today who have never learned that either.

  6. Churlita-- You're right. I never wanted for anything. He did some wonderful things for us. But he had his own business and worked long hard hours to make those things happen.

    Yeah, I know a lot of dads like that.

  7. I'm still obsessed with the nippleless Barbie.

    Our dads sure did the best they could. My dad is still doing it. His mom raised him. His own father bailed on the family when my dad was just 6 months old. I marvel at the fact that a fatherless boy could grow up to be such a great dad.

    Here's to all fathers in the world. And to the ones destined to be fathers. Teach your children well.

  8. Peggy-- I'll second that!

    That Barbie was a scary being! But Ken was a mutant! ha

  9. What a wonderful story...I could picture the whole thing as though it were playing out before me.

    I notice that some people never do seem to gain an adult perspective when it comes to their own parents. You, however, have a very healthy attitude :-)

  10. laura b.-- Thank you. I'm still my dad's least favorite child. But at least I am here when he needs me and when I need him... he is there. Grumpy, but there.

  11. The old man is always wrong, and the young man is always wrong about what is wrong with him.

    - G.K. Chesterton

    Yes, our relationships with our fathers can be complicated. I get along great with mine, but that wasn't always so. Still, i always knew that he loved me, regardless of whether we enjoyed each other's company. That counts for a lot, I think.

    I learned to ride in a similar fashion, on my mother's horrible old Schwinn. It was a girl's bike, and way too big, but no one made fun of me. I was considered fortunate to have any bike to ride. When it came time to get one of my own, I had a secret weapon: recourse to my doting Nana.

    The key was to appeal to her depression-era instinct. I saved up maybe $10 or $15, more money then than now, but nowhere near enough. Then I told her I was saving for a bicycle. The balance was soon forthcoming.

  12. Losing a good report card on the way home is pretty much as bad as it gets...glad you recovered!

  13. Mo-- Especially since I was pretty much an average student.

  14. Cricket-- I love the doting Nana!

    My mom was my fairy godmother, which was part of the trouble with my dad I think. He adored my mom and always did whatever she wanted immediately. My mom liked to shop and I was her favorite thing to shop for.

    When my mom was in the hospital, the nuns found my dad standing outside her window long after visiting hours were past... took pity on him and snuck him back inside so that he could stay with her. Now that is love.

  15. Your post made me think of my first bike. My dad took me to Macy's and I picked out a blue bike. Don't remember the kind anymore, but I do remember taking her home on the subway and many people were smiling at me and talking to me - a rare event on a subway in New York. I was so happy I could pop.

  16. Cube-- I think getting that first bike was a bigger event for me than getting my first car.

    But then, I knew my dad always sold us our first cars for one dollar. I did not have to earn that one.

    I have never ridden a subway! What a great day that must have been.

  17. Both were unforgettable events for me. My dad woke me up one Saturday morning and told me we were going to get me my first car. He had a friend who owned a used car lot and would give him a good deal. I picked out my car immediately, knowing it was the one for me. My dad paid for it and I drove it home. I was so happy I could pop.

    BTW thanks for the Mustang memories. We had a candy apple red 1968 Mustang convertible, but because I was the oldest, my sisters had to take turns sitting on the hump. Ha!

  18. Cube-- Very cool beans! What a great story.

    I got my first car when Duffy bought a 240Z and it "opened" up. She was my oldest sister. Duffy and I got the blue bug-eye sprite and my brother and Medusa got the sprite that looks like a midget. Eventually the Medusa wrecked the one she got. Cinderella didn't learn to drive until she was 36.

    Those original Mustangs could not be beat! We had so much fun in ours. Not a convertable or fastback. It was smoky silver with real mag wheels.

  19. I love me those "old" Mustangs. They are sweet.

  20. Cube-- Me too! Lots of good memories pop into my head when I see them. :-)