|I need one of those...|
My exposure to advertising was limited. We had no TV, did not subscribe to a newspaper and the few radio ads I heard were forgettable. Besides seeing what other kids had, my primary source for information about STUFF was the Sears ‘Big Book’ catalog. It came out twice a year and was as thick as the telephone book. It had everything a person could want. Clothes, tools, hardware, appliances, electronics, furniture. If it wasn't in the Sears catalog, you probably didn't need it.
In what seemed just short of magic, Mom would make a phone call, then goods would arrive at our local Sears store for pickup not many days later. Sears published smaller seasonal or sale catalogs from time-to-time as well. Each catalog was no doubt carefully planned for release by a huddle of marketing types in Sears headquarters. My favorite catalog was the much-anticipated Christmas 'Wish Book' that showed up shortly after Halloween, loaded with toys for children of all ages. I would sit for hours thumbing through the pages, imagining a paradise with rooms full of toys for my endless pleasure, until the reality of our trailer park life popped my bubble.
Those were the days of wheelie bicycles, a tribute to the motorcycle culture of the 1960's. Banana seats and high handlebars were in vogue. 'My' bike was painted a glittering gold color. I saw freedom and speed and power in that bike, reminiscent of a big jungle cat. That bicycle became the focus of all my longings.
How Mom ever came up with the money to get me that bike is a mystery. Motherhood is full of unseen sacrifices that a child is not even aware of until much, much later. Somehow, she managed it. I distinctly remember telling Mom that I had prayed for that bike and I am sure she affirmed my childhood faith. My reality was that God had given me a bike because I prayed really, really hard. Perhaps a misguided notion of what prayer and God are about. Still, my mother had to have faith that whatever corners she had to cut to get that bike would be made up for in some way by the same providential God to whom I attributed the delivery of my bike. So, in that sense, I was riding on the coat-tails of Mom's faith. Then, as now, her connection with heaven was more direct than mine.
Between Mom and I and maybe a neighbor, the bike was quickly assembled. As I was a slightly built 6-year-old with distinctly average physical coordination, learning with training wheels was mandatory. Not that I cared.
All I saw once I settled into the seat was how perfectly my hands fit around the rubber grips on the handle bars and how my feet fit the pedals. I took off slowly at first, figuring out how to turn this beast I was mastering. After a few small circles, I was off. Riding faster with the silver plastic streamers hanging from the ends of the grips snapping in the turbulence. It was not long before the training wheels came off and I was truly a free rider. I don't remember that first moment of balancing on two wheels, but there are few things to compare to the exhilaration of pedaling a bike with the breeze in your face as you and the bike respond to changes in the road: standing up and pumping really hard to get up hills, crouching down and coasting as gravity pulls you faster than you could ever pedal down hills, jamming on the brakes and leaving long skid marks. I didn't even think about the wear and tear, just about the coolness of the black stripes I was leaving on the pavement or sidewalk.
My gold steed was a faithful companion for many days, weeks and months that stretched into two years. But, after a wet winter, I hauled the bike out for a ride one spring evening. My arms, which had stretched comfortably out in front of me when I first got the bike, now had to be bent at the elbows and splayed out to avoid hitting my legs as I peddled. To cover the same ground that my faithful steed used to race over before required much more effort because of my increased weight and the awkward leverage made necessary by my longer limbs. My bicycle was suddenly too small. In the dark of winter, my bicycle had shrunk and with it my affection.
I don't know what happened to my first bike after that. Maybe it was passed down to my brother for awhile before completely disappearing. In another couple of years I would have a new bike that fit me. But that would require a long and unexpected field trip to the desert with a stranger who happened to be my father.