Last week I had a rare and precious visit with my Dad. He lives in the house I grew up in, north of Toronto in Muskoka, Ontario. Mom passed away 5 years ago now, but he’s still holding down the fort by himself, working as an antique marine mechanic in summers and battling the extreme snow load in winters to keep the -40 temperatures from creeping into the wood-heated house. While I was there, I started poking around amid the piles of treasures – believe me, Dad has piles of treasures EVERYWHERE – and I came across Mom’s old British Raleigh bicycle in the garage, buried underneath random boxes of antique tools and extra brake lines for cars we don’t own anymore. It had been parked there for over 30 years, since my parents left their careers in Toronto to move north and “live off the land” at the end of a hilly Muskoka dirt road that wasn’t suited at all for bikes (especially smooth-tired bikes with only 3 speeds on the Sturmey-Archer gearshift).
Picture a towheaded 2-year old, perched in the baby seat mounted over the rear wheel of that bicycle, flying down the paved streets of Toronto with Mom’s long red hair blowing in the wind, laughing out loud at bumps over curbs and swerves around potholes. That’s my very first memory as a human being on this planet, and it came back to me in living colour the moment I saw that bike.
So with Dad’s help, I extracted the bike from its piles of stuff, and the two of us proceeded to nurse it back into working order. Dad trimmed the rotten rubber off the bike’s air pump hose, re-attached it and we pumped up the flat tires and applauded when they held air. We used Dad’s antique tin long-stemmed oilcans to lubricate the gears, and worked the pedals back and forth until the shifter began to move again. We coaxed the tiny bell handle with lubricant until the bell rang just like it used to. We searched through Dad’s piles of tools to find the perfect sized socket (British Imperial sized! No Metric crap for this bike!) and re-adjusted the wheel-operated headlight and taillight. We found the original instruction book among Dad’s files, and then I was entertained by Dad’s running commentary as he sorted through a tin bucket of random unmarked keys – many of which belonged to old clients’ boathouses which have long since been torn down – to fish out a British Royal family keychain linked to the set of original keys to the Raleigh handlebar hub.
I dismantled the bike enough to somehow fit it into my VW hatchback, drove the 14 hour trip back down to Nashville, and spent the weekend polishing it to a shine with rags, wax, and an antique can of chrome polish Dad had sent with me. And even though it’s 1000 miles from home, when I took the bike out for its first ride around East Nashville, I swear could hear my Mom’s laugh mixed with the wind in my ears.
I’m gonna love riding that bike.
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