limit on my dad’s mail retrieval that did not allow for a walking pace. If not back in time with the mail, my dad would be whipped—he had no choice but to run. My dad needed his bicycle; it was not just a toy to be played with.
I have no recollection of my grandfather excepting a snippet of memory of his funeral when I was of early single-digit age. I remember those saddened by the loss of a man who my dad described as a decent, hard-working person when he was sober. I also remember those feeling a sense of relief for the loss of a man who, when drunk, not only beat his wife and children, but even shot at them with a rifle as they hid behind any cover they could find—my dad still recalls the sound of the bullets as they whizzed over his head as he hunkered down behind a stack of firewood. This abuse went on until my dad finally grew big enough and angry enough and bold enough to stand up to my grandfather. My dad stood with a baseball bat, face to face with his enraged, drunken father, protecting his mother from yet another beating, telling his father that he would never, ever, beat his mother, his sisters, or him again. And, after that, he never did.
As my dad used to fix his own bike when he was a child, he also repaired used bikes for my brother and myself. However, when I was eleven-years-old, my used-bike days came to an end when both my older brother and I received new Schwinn Varsity 10-speeds. Although my brother’s new bike was for his birthday, I received mine at the same time for no special reason. My brother never did see the justice in that situation as I had received the same gift for his birthday as he had received. I kept my mouth shut hoping no one figured out what was going on, feeling that I was the beneficiary of some sort of scam that no one had yet seemed to notice. And apparently no one, other than my brother, ever did.
I clearly remember our trip to the bicycle shop—it was extraordinary. Posters of bicycle races in foreign lands hung in the floor-to-ceiling front windows of the shop. Grown men wearing short pants and sporting smooth legs walked about. Bikes of all sizes and colors sat in the windows, crowded the floor, and hung on the walls. Shiny parts with exorbitant prices glistened behind glass counter tops.
As my brother and I followed our dad through the shop, bike mechanics wearing greasy aprons and striped caps with turned-up brims glanced out at us from the back room—we could not meet their eyes.
I received a metallic green, ten-speed Schwinn Varsity; my brother, a bright yellow one. Those two bicycles were the most beautiful things I had ever seen—a glorious combination of painted steel and chrome; dropped, curvy handlebars of the type seen only on true racing bikes; a bewildering system of levers, cables, and sprockets that, when properly mastered, would allow the rider to climb the steepest uphill slope and to streak across level ground at tremendous speeds. Chrome wheels, chrome chain ring guard, chrome handlebars sporting vinyl bar tape that matched the color of the frame. Skinny gumwall tires. White script on the frame shouting out “Schwinn.” These weren’t just mere bikes we were receiving; these were bicycles—Schwinn bicycles—Schwinn, ten-speed bicycles—the types of bicycles ridden only by athletes and the wealthy. We could not imagine that it could possibly be any better. And as if the exquisite bicycles alone weren’t enough, my dad then decided to spend extra money for chrome fenders.
With the gleaming fenders installed, the bicycles were even more beautiful than they had been before. It was sheer extravagance. My brother and I just stood there grinning, looking stupid, unable to speak. We were very nearly jealous of ourselves.
My dad was standing there grinning also—his eyes sparkling—seemingly as thrilled as we were with those new bikes, excepting he didn’t look so stupid. It’s interesting to me now to remember it was my mother who usually did the actual purchasing of gifts for my brothers and me—except for bicycles; my dad was always the one who purchased the bicycles.
The mechanics pushing our new bicycles away though the front door broke my brother and I out of our standing-around-looking-stupid mode. We followed the mechanics outside—we still looked stupid, but at least we were moving. After squeezing the brake levers a few times, the mechanics instructed us on the workings of the controls. We didn’t have a clue as to what the mechanics were talking about, as we had never ridden anything other than single speed bikes with coaster brakes before, but we nodded our heads yes every time they asked us if we understood. It was if the mechanics were speaking to us from far away, and we were in dream. Then, interrupting the dream, I heard my dad say, “See you when you get home,” and then my dad, my mom, and my little brother drove away.
After many false shifts, as we repeatedly tired to change gears whilst not pedaling, and several pushes back on the pedals that produced no braking at all, my brother and I were finally able to bring the new-fangled shifting and brak-