Monday, October 13, 2008

Riding Grampa's Bike

In a life made rich by the amount of love shared among friends and family, the acquisition of "stuff" seems like such a shallow goal. Don't get me wrong: I likes me a lotta different "stuff," from Kiss collectibles to comix to DVDs and records. But, that stuff doesn't define me beyond any surface level. Well, okay, the Kiss stuff might, but let's move on, okay?? What I'm trying to get at is this: it's the people in your life who make you what you are, who allow for the truest expression of yourself. If you surround yourself with good and loving people, not all of the stuff in the world can can equal or replace the riches that you have.

Which isn't to say that we don't THINK about stuff, right? Especially our relatives' stuff. Be honest: you've stood in your parents' house, and you've gone "Gee, I hope Sis doesn't want that collection of ruby red Cape Cod dinnerware, 'cause that shit is MINE, goddammit!" This desire for a certain kind of stuff - the stuff that, for one reason or another, you equate with your family - isn't to be viewed as any sort of imminent death-wish for the current owners. I know you're not all like "God, I hope Mom dies soon so I can get my hands on her collection of vintage umbrellas!" But I think there are "things" that you associate with certain people, and a good way to keep the memory of those people alive on a more-or-less daily basis is to have some "thing" of that person hanging around. "Oh, look, there's that silly ceramic bee on my counter; why, I can remember having breakfast at home, and Mom would spoon whipped honey out of that thing like there was no tomorrow..."

My grandparents are old. Gram is fighting with some form of age-related demtia: call it that, call it Alzheimer's, call it old-friggin'-age...whatever it is, it's cruel and it's robbing her, in little tiny (but noticeable) bits, of her ability to remember shit and to think clearly about her present. Gramps still has his wits about him, although by his own admittance even his memory ain't what it used to be. He's lost a lot of his physical strength now that he's in his late-70s...but I still wouldn't want to arm-wrestle the guy! He's totally the one who, when told to really wring all the water out of the washcloth so that it doesn't mold, accidentally tore the fucker in two. THAT guy. They're great, though, and I feel really blessed to have had them in my adult life. Shit, I'm one of the only guys I know whose grandparents are still ALIVE, for fuck's sake! So, I can't really be bitching about their health now that I've hit my 40s.'s hard, right?

For years, I've know what "stuff" of theirs I want, the stuff that will keep their memory fresh in my mind once they're gone. And really, it's nothing. There's no rare coin collection that I'm looking to unload on fancy, vintage '58 Corvette parked in the back garage...we're talking about mundane, ordinary things, crap that my own wife probably doesn't want hanging around our house. And, with any luck, it'll still be years before she has to put up with that 2-ft. tall black onyx-like cat...
Me at about 5 months, with cat on hearth.

or the glass Murano clown with his stupid feet on backwards, eating a peanut. The bikes, though...the bikes are now ours.

I don't really know why I wanted the bikes. Maybe because they're of a time before me. They represent a world that my grandparents knew, that didn't yet have me in it. They're 1967 Schwinns, solid tubular steel frames, made in the U.S.A. and about 40 pounds each. My grandparents rode them all over their neighborhood, took them camping, took them on their cabin cruiser up to Tawas and rode them around town there. Already the "Deluxe" models (note the chrome fenders, etc.), Grampa tricked each bike out to the max, wiring them for lights, putting on classy horns, giving the ladies Breeze a front basket. They represent to me a thing that is valued: expensive at the time of their purchase, they were treated as a major investment and so were well-cared for. These values are a part of my life, something that I inherited not so much through nature as through nurture. The values were taught to me, and here, almost as if they traveled through time, is the physical embodiment of those values brought to 3-dimensional life. Not values that exist in the "thought/mind," but values made real, for me to touch and to know that there walked upon this earth people who cared. So...I guess I DO know why I wanted the bikes...but I couldn't put it into words until I started typing this entry.

Anyway, I heard through the family grapevine that Gramps was thinking about selling them to the local Schwinn dealer. He's still in business - or, rather, the business is still there - but of course all of his stock is now lighter (but cheaper) aluminum, made in China, a shadow of the former solid glory that the bikes once represented. Gram can't really ride anymore, and Gramps wanted the bikes out of the way so he wasn't constantly tripping over them. I about went apoplectic when I found out what he was going to do. Sell these bikes, to a total stranger?!? Someone who only cared about turning them around for a profit? No no no. I quickly offered him the exact price the store owner did, willing to buy them given the fact that what I viewed as an eventual inheritance was quickly turning out not to be the case at all. And Gramps agreed...and that was that. I paid him - probably less than he paid for them brand new, and certainly a lot less than they're worth as vintage cycles - loaded them onto my bike rack, and drove away. Mine now. My bikes.

The plan was to take them to Mackinac, where they would find new life in a community where bikes were actually valued as a primary conveyance, and not just as a child's toy or a piece of adult exercise equipment. I had them tuned up at a local shop, where the owner was sadly unimpressed with their vintage glory. Hey, what the hell: he races, so of course he's into the newest-&-lightest. I took them up north last weekend, and you know what? They're like Cadillacs. In this era of mountain bikes, you sometimes forget what a truly great ride a simple road bike can be. They're 3-speeds, which means that compared to a modern 21-speed, you get the equivalent of 5th, 15th, and 21st gears. In 3rd, you can cruise along flat ground at about 20mph, only giving 40-50 pedals per minute. And, straining to get uphill by the Grand Hotel, you eventually jump off and push, watching the much more modern bikes easily cruise by you in pedal-your-ass-off 1st gear. I watched this...but I wasn't made jealous by those newer bikes. I gladly pushed Grampa's bike - MY bike - up the hill, serene with the knowledge that for the next 40 years the bikes would be a constant reminder of the values I learned from the original riders. A set of values which dictate that how quickly you get there isn't what matters; in many cases, it's the ride itself.


Blogger kat said...

Those were some damn fine horns.

9:08 PM  
Blogger L*I*S*A said...

Sweet rides.

10:10 AM  
Blogger Steph said...

Great post. So timely, for me...

I just got my grandma's wedding dress. Not quite so practical as your bikes! It is so strange to look at this thing, something that only existed in black and white photographs to me before, to see seventy-year-old sweat stains and imagine my nineteen-year-old grandmother wearing it. I'm not usually very invested in particular pieces of stuff, but some old objects do really seem imbued with a sort of mystery and meaning that is hard to quantify.

9:48 AM  
Blogger sdb said...

They just don't make things like they used to...these bikes are beautiful!

9:59 PM  

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