Part 1 of Bicycle Memories "My Flying Father"
I bought my first "very own" 3-speed from Sears not long after I started my new life as a post-military brat. I say very own because I paid for it out of my allowance savings. It was the first "major purchase" of my life. I needed it after having just gotten my first job ever delivering The Saginaw News house-to-house.
It was less than a year since my dad had retired to his home state of Michigan and we were still living with my grandma Haley and Uncle Bill in Birch Run while a contractor built my parents' "dream house." It was during my 13th summer, the June-July-August period just before I started the 9th grade.
I nicknamed that bicycle “Blacky.” I’ll give you one guess what color it was.
I can’t remember for sure if I had my own bicycle before that one, but I’m pretty sure my parents had bought me one that I quickly outgrew. I’m dimly aware of having a little red boy’s bike when we lived in Turkey for the second time from the autumn of 1969 until late 1970. In fact, now that I think of it, I’m sure I did, because even as I write this that little red bicycle is prompting memories of another red bicycle—my father’s.
During that second tour at Karamursel Air Station, my dad bought a used direct drive bicycle, the kind with no gear shifting. The chain simply went from the pedal hub sprocket to the rear wheel sprocket. To stop while riding it, the rider stood on the pedals in the reverse direction exactly like BMX bikes still work today. When it was new that bike had been painted red, but when my dad brought it home you couldn’t tell where the rust started and the paint ended.
He took that clunker apart, sanded off all the rust, fixed its mechanical problems, and painted it a bright candy apple crimson. He had that thing in pretty good shape too—it looked brand new when he was done. That’s my dad—always has to have a “project” going, and fixing up that crappy bike and making it new was just one in a countless series of his undertakings over the decades.
One early afternoon, he didn’t see me, but I saw him on that shiny red bike of his. He was coming home during a break from where he worked in the “elephant cage,” which was a gigantic peculiar looking Cold War eavesdropping antenna that the American Air Force used to “listen in on” the Soviets.
I can see him now as he was then, wearing starched and creased olive drab fatigues with sharply contrasting bright white and blue master sergeant stripes on his short sleeves; a day-glo orange squadron cap is pushed down low over his eyes to keep it from blowing off as he rides.
I watched him from my vantage point on one of the deserted little league fields. I was hanging out in the 1st base dugout behind a chain link fence. It felt like I was spying on him, since he didn’t notice me watching him. It seems strange to think about, but at 42 he was eight years younger than I am now.
Riding that bike back and forth to work everyday must have gotten him into pretty good shape because he was really zooming along. I thought about calling out to him as he passed by only about 20 yards away, but I was enjoying seeing him like that, tooling along down the long straight road from his radio maintenance shop. I knew he was heading back towards base housing where we lived for a quick lunch break and I didn’t want to hold him up from that.
I was 12 years old, so that was 38 years ago, but I can still envisage his legs pumping like pistons. His head low over the handlebars, he stood on the pedals straining for speed. As he approached I could hear him breathing strong and rhythmically, almost panting. Boy oh boy, was he ever flying!
I had been lying lazily on the scarred wooden dugout bench having just ridden there on that little red boy's bike I described at the beginning of this post. It was leaned up against the chain link just a few feet away from where I had been idly reposing; but then, excited to see him so unexpectedly, I stood up, pressing my nose against the links of the fence for a better view of my “flying father.” I remember feeling a surge of love for him and being so proud that he was my dad.
Good memories those…
If you get the time, come back later for more “bicycle memories” in some future posts…