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Free Range: It’s the thought that counts

By Felicia Morgan

As a kid I was not allowed to ride motorcycles. It was strictly forbidden since “good girls” did not hang off the back of motorcycles and I was raised to be a good girl. We already had a biker in the family since an aunt’s man rode a Harley and he was dubbed the “No-account SOB,” so my parents felt they already knew all they needed to about bikers and there was no way in hell their daughter was gonna be one. Heh.

After the initial trials and tribulations related to my choice of mate and the family realizing that they could either embrace the bike-riding motorcycle mechanic as their son-in-law or they could kiss their daughter goodbye, things settled into the relative calm that comes with a cease-fire. Not being content with that sort of ease for long I decided that, despite my parent’s loudly-expressed aversion to anything two-wheeled, my little brother should come to know and love the world of motorcycling as much as I did. Consequently, my husband and I made it our focused mission to present my 10-year-old sibling with the coolest Christmas present ever: a Honda 50 minibike.

Owen worked for the Honda dealership in Flagstaff where he had come across a killer deal on a battered little bike and we threw ourselves into the task of reviving the scoot as a gift. We were cash-poor newlyweds and viewed the joint project as a trash-to-treasure opportunity to make the discarded bike sparkle. He tore into the engine and made it sound, as I took apart the seat and prepared to reupholster. We turned the spare room of our cramped mobile home into a paint booth and Owen rattle-canned it a beautiful candy-apple red. I turned a pair of old Levis into a tuck-and-roll seat covering and we polished up the metals. As a promotion from the dealership that year, Honda provided bike-buying customers a huge red and white flannel stocking that was slit along the back seam and came with a cardboard “toe” insert so, when covered, the bike appeared to be coming out of a giant Christmas stocking. Owen scored one of those, too. It was the coolest Christmas present ever. At least we thought so.

We excitedly made the two-hour trip to spend the holidays with my family in Glendale with the bike in the back of the truck; the seat nestled in the cab with us so the snow wouldn’t mess it up. We rolled in and anxiously awaited the opportune time for Santa to make his delivery, announcing to my parents that they could not come out until morning, either. Then we went to bed.

Christmas morning started off with a low rumble from the living room, as we sprung to our feet to watch the gift-giving frenzy that would surely ensue. We were certain everyone would be thrilled with our handiwork and we couldn’t wait to see the expression on Roy’s face as he pulled the cover off his new machine. We strolled into the living room and were met with the stone cold stares of my less-than-pleased parents. Owen and I reached for each other’s hands in support as we all stood watching Roy checking out the gift in complete disbelief. With arms folded across her chest Mom looked me right in the eye and asked, “What is this?” We blinked.

Owen took control of the room by explaining to Roy that his new bike was shift-and-go with three gears, a centrifugal clutch and a hand brake, as he pointed out each feature. He told him it could go pretty fast and he should only ride it in the back of the property where there was plenty of room, but asked if he wanted to take it out front to the side yard for his initial test ride. I assured my parents that it was very simple bike and would be good for teaching Roy balance and motor skills like hand-eye coordination. Mom stared without blinking and I worried that her head might explode from the tension of her death glares and puckered lips. Dad just shook his head.

We gathered in the driveway as Owen walked my nervously excited brother through the process of operation. Then he kicked the bike over and held the handlebars as Roy slung his leg over his new wheels. There was a nod, my husband stepped back and Roy nailed the throttle. Mom let out an audible gasp even though she stood with a tea towel over her mouth, as her precious child jammed across the damp lawn heading straight for the fence.

The scene unfolded like a slow-motion comedy skit, as Roy shrieked as his scrawny legs left the pegs and flailed in the air. He rolled on the throttle and ran the bike full speed into the chain-link fence at the edge of the house. The fence had lots of “give” and sort of flung the bike and its rider through the air and tossed them both back onto the dew-soaked grass and they both slid across the lawn, coming to rest at our father’s feet. Dad threw his cigarette down and spewed cuss words. Mom screamed. In one swift move she threw her hands over her head, pivoted on her slippered toes and bolted for the house screaming something about “the stupid motorcycle” before slamming the door loudly behind her. Dad went to help up his only son as Owen and I laughed. Roy cried.

There was a lot of uncomfortable silence that Christmas. We were eventually forgiven, as a peace accord was reached and baby brother learned to ride. The bike was stolen some years later and Roy moved up to riding quads, broke some bones and decided bikes were not for him. Now he spends his days playing on huge earth-moving equipment and laughs about “back in the day” and likes to hear my road stories.

This year the entire clan will be gathered at Mom’s place for the holidays. For the first time ever all the kids, grandkids and great-grandkids will assemble under one roof. Dad is no longer with us and my sister’s soldier husband is deployed half a world away, so his chair will also be empty, but 17 of us will come from across the states and, as a gift to my 75-year old mother, us three kids promise to “get along.” We promised not hit each other or say mean things or have a food fight, since she asked for a mellow holiday. It’s a goal. We’re all primed to see if the cops show up, though (they usually do when more than three of us gather in one place), and yes, there will be a “stupid motorcycle” in Mom’s garage.



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