My Dad's been gone about a year now, and I recently found this email from him....
In his last year (he knew he had a year to live), I asked him a lot of questions, in an attempt to get to know him better.
One day I simply asked; "Dad, did you ride bicycles as a kid?" (keep in mind he grew up poor in a coal mining region of Pennsylvania. I wasn't sure he had a bike)
here's his reply (when he refers to "Paul", that is my grandfather):
Of course we rode bicycles. For a long time I borrowed one of my sisters, until I became the proud owner of my own at around 10 or 11 years of age. I remember it well. The handle bars were pitted, the paint cracked and, as for the brand, the emblem was missing. I guess it was kind of a mongrel. I think the chain guard was missing, so had to roll my pant leg up. There was something wrong with the chain, as well: It kept missing or jumping when I peddled and sometimes the brake didn’t work when I back peddled. But the worst part was the steering; the bearings in the main shaft were shot and at times the handlebar would just stick in place, leaving me unable to steer and avoid obstacles. This was a particular disadvantage when “us guys” gathered at night to race. There was a long maintenance/supply shed, about 200 feet long and maybe 30 feet wide around which we raced on warm summer evenings. The night watchman enjoyed having us there and would sit outside his office and watch us race like crazy round and round while he listened to The Ted Mack Amateur Hour. There was always some hopeful playing “Lady of Spain” on the accordion on that show. I guess it was kind of an “American Idol” of the time. Anyway, many were the times I would get to the end of the straight-away, going like a bat out of hell, the handle bar would stick in place and I would end up in some ash pile or bramble bush. But there was a plus side to this new acquisition. Sensing my disappointment, Paul informed me that this was a PRE-WAR bike. I faintly understood what that meant. This was special. All the other kids had new or newer bikes. But those were made AFTER the war. My pre-war bike was made before they took all the good steel and iron and rubber for tanks and ships and planes, and other implements of destruction. I don’t know what the post-war bikes were supposed to be made of, but somehow they were not as good as my PRE-WAR BIKE. I don’t think I fully subscribed to the notion that my PR-WAR bike was superior to the newer ones. I didn’t brag about it too much. After I retired and moved to Sun City , at age 69, I bought my first NEW, POST-POST-POST-WAR bike. It’s brand spanking new, silver, 21-speed, caliper brakes. The steering works. I hardly ever use it. End of story.
I hope this is as interesting and touching as I think it is. Thanks for letting me share.