I do not know why, but I have been remembering Jack the neighbor boy who was a year ahead of me in school. He was my nemesis in several categories. He asked fifth grade questions, confident I could not answer since I was merely in fourth grade. I hated that he was always right. Almost fifty years later it finally occurs to me that he could easily have been lying. No body is right ALL the time. I conceded to his older and wiser pronouncements whether I was right or wrong in his slightly mean-spirited Jack Jeopardy.
Though I was strong and tough from riding horses since I was old enough to sit up, Jack was a boy, and one year older, a worthy opponent. I wanted to win when we raced our bikes, or played tag, or war, or whatever game the neighborhood gang was playing. I do not remember losing foot races but I certainly remember losing when we raced bicycles. Jack had an old heavy metal bike, a relic from the last decade, maybe older, maybe even before WWII. I did not have a bike, so I had to race riding his bike, while he rode his older brother's "newer" bike. Though he normally won, I at least had a fighting chance.
Then, my mother ordered a brand new blue Sears and Roebuck 26" girl's bike for me. It had a battery powered light and white handle grips. There was a flat steel platform above the back fender, with white pin striping. I could beat Jack riding my brand new bike. For a short, glorious, euphoric stretch, I won every race against Jack, confidently hauling past him on my new blue bicycle, taunting him into a race to the end of the block, to the school, past Robinson's bushes. Those were sweet days of victory and vindication and outright gloating. I rubbed it in - deep.
But then, my mother, the woman who found a million and three ways to ruin my life at every opportunity, slammed a sudden and horrible handicap on my racing victories. There was only one reason money was spent for such an extravagant purchase: to help my mother. I walked to the little grocery store downtown at least every other day to purchase a few bags of groceries and cigarettes for my mother. If I had wheels, my mother could expect far speedier deliveries. My birthday falls a few days before Christmas, so getting a new bike in the summer was suspect from the first.
The full enormity of her diabolical plan was revealed when Grandpa showed up to install big, ugly wire baskets on either side of the rear tire. Now I could haul fifty pounds of groceries for my mother. I was the only kid in town with old-lady wire baskets on her bike. The thrill of whipping Jack at bike racing was severely diminished. It was difficult to be cool and fast when your bike looked like the Wicked Witch of the West's evil contraption.
My luck crashed even further for within a week or so of the wire basket installation, Jack and his brother and sister received brand new bicycles. They were made overseas of unobtainium, with narrow tires and sparkly paint. My big American steel roadster with wide tires and ugly baskets could not compete against Jack's racers. I clearly remember the depressing realization that I would never again win a bike race against Jack - not unless I could talk him into trading bikes. One time he consented to ride my old-lady bike and let me ride his golden Ferrari bicycle in a race. I won easily but it was the last time. After that, he would not trade bikes and I would not race him, no matter what he said to goad me. We were still friends, and we still rode bikes together, but there was no racing.
Several years ago for my birthday, my kids took me to a restaurant in Lawrence. In late December, in the dark and snow, chained to a light post by the front doors, where I could not miss it, was an old Sears girl's bike with a flat metal platform above the rear fender. It was the same color blue and had white pin striping. It had been restored. It was minus the baskets, but it was the very same model my mother had ordered out of the Sears catalog decades ago.
I was delighted and explained it was exactly like the brand new bicycle my mother had ordered for me one summer. My daughter said "It's Grandma saying happy birthday to ya, Mom." And so it was.