The Year of the Schwinn
We’d only been in
for three years when my tenth birthday was on the horizon. We were transplants from northern California back in the late1950’s and my dad had worked hard to get us there. To make the money to fly us all out, he spent eight months in Minnesota Greenland where the U.S. Army had contracted with civilians to build an airstrip. It was an exciting time for all of us because seemed like a wonderland where just about anybody’s dream could come true. Still, with five children to feed and clothe it was a struggle to make ends meet. California
Dad found one salesman’s job after another and pounded the pavement selling screen doors, then vitamin supplements, then encyclopedias until finally he got a route as a truck driver for a meat packing company. Even then the money often ran out before the month did. My mother didn’t have an outside job and neither did she drive. This left a lot of responsibility on my dad in his off hours to take care of other family matters like doctor’s appointments, school meetings and grocery shopping.
My birthday fell on a Saturday that year and I woke up wondering what the day would bring. No mention was made of anything special being done for my birthday so I imagined I’d get cards and small gifts like all my other birthdays. There was one thing I dreaded about the day, though. I had a morning appointment with the eye doctor. Yuck. I sure didn’t want to go to that. Dad would be taking me, conferring with the doctor about my poor eyesight and whether I’d need new glasses or not. New glasses meant the kids at school would stare at me for a day or so and I hated that idea. But the hour came to go off for my exam and I had to go.
For the whole trip to the eye doctor my Dad was quiet. We sped through downtown traffic and I stared glumly out the car window hoping the appointment wouldn’t take too long. Which it didn’t and quite honestly, I can’t remember whether I needed new glasses or not. I was just glad to be out of there. That’s when my dad mentioned my birthday.
“I think your mom has something special for you for your birthday today,” he said.
I brightened up immediately. “Really?”
“Didn’t you want a new hairbrush set or something?”
My face fell. That wasn’t what I wanted at all. My heart was set on a small crystal clock for my bedside. They were all the rage, not too expensive and I thought they were beautiful. “That would be okay,” I said to answer him. A hairbrush seemed more in keeping with gifts my folks could afford and I resigned myself to another “poor girl” birthday.
“Well, we have to make a stop before we get home,” Dad said.
A few minutes later we pulled up in front of a bicycle shop where a long row of beautiful Schwinn bicycles sat on the sidewalk in front of the store.
“Why are we stopping here?” I asked.
“Because you’re getting a new bicycle for your birthday.”
I stared at him. I didn’t believe him. I was the girl who pretended that things like new bicycles weren’t important. I was the girl who begged to ride on the back of her girlfriend’s bikes so I could be a part of the group that was heading for the playground after school. If nobody would give me a ride I walked or acted like I didn’t really want to go anyway. I had so many defenses for why I didn’t have things like roller skates, nice clothes or fashion dolls that my mind refused to accept that this could change. And here was my wonderful Dad telling me I was getting a new bicycle for my tenth birthday. I just stared at him.
My Dad had the kind of grin that split his whole face and that’s what happened when he saw my reaction. I think he already had the bike he could afford picked out because he led me to a beautiful dark green one and asked me how I liked it. Now, let me tell you, this bike was a magnificent monster. Not a lightweight like you find so much nowadays. It had substantial metal fenders, whitewall tires (with inner tubes), a chain guard and kickstand, a basket on the front and a bell on the handlebars plus a rack on the back fender where another kid could ride. And the spokes! Imagine all the cards I could clothespin to those. My girlfriends would die of envy. Did I like it? I was simply too stunned to answer.
Dad loaded the bike up and took it and his stunned daughter home. He didn’t stop grinning for weeks and when I got over my disbelief at owning this beautiful object neither could I. Later my Mom told me the bike cost $48 and in those days that was a lot of groceries. Whatever he had to do to afford that bike, Dad did it without complaint. I rode the thing into the ground and will never forget the pride I felt in being able to ride with my friends to the playground and school, haul my brothers and sisters around on the rack and love the man to bits who allowed me to do it.
Image: Stuart Miles Free Digital Images