We’re a bunch of late babies, the h and me and little one three. Our birthdays are within 30 days of Christmas, more or less. The downside of this is not getting your fair share of birthday booty AND Christmas booty, but getting the dreaded combo booty.
Actually, not all combo booty is bad booty. A lifetime of experience has taught me that Combo booty comes in two types: lame, and jaw dropping. Did you ever get a jaw dropping gift? I’ve had a few in my life, and I remember them all, but none so much as my first new big girl bike with no training wheels, a snappy sunburst yellow Schwinn with hot pink daisy decals on the seat, and a white wicker basket wound all around with white and yellow plastic daisies perched pertly between the handle bars (most of the daisies fell off when I crashed my bike into a parked car while riding no handed, showing off for the Stubblefield boys). It had yellow and white streamers that flew like the thick blonde ponytails of Jan and Marcia Brady, and when they flowed out behind me in the breeze as I rode, I tasted true freedom.
Growing up, we didn’t have much though it wasn’t something we kids talked about – many of my parents’ friend (and of course their kids) were in the same boat. Christmas gifts always included necessities, like clothes. At dinner, if we had meat, it was the kind that needed to be pounded really hard to be edible and there was exactly one small piece for each persona at the table – no extras.
We were sometimes reduced to powdered milk. Cookies were bought in bulk, because broken ones were cheaper. For years I associated true wealth (or just extreme luck) with branded snack food: Oreos, Hostess Cupcakes and those little individual sized bags of chips and single serving boxes of cereal – indulgences that simply cost too much for a family that had to watch every penny.
I was young but I understood the meaning of that brand name, Schwinn. I knew I was getting the best brand, though we were relatively poor. It meant my dad could do anything, that even in a world where I sometimes left the dinner table a little bit hungry, he could find a way to pay for the best yellow bike in the world. My dad wasn’t one to talk about love but I knew it when I saw it.
Now some forty years later, the little one is jumping up and down in front of me, excited about the birthday gift that she has been instructed to prevent me from walking in on, as the h thumps around upstairs getting ready for the all important Presentation of the Birthday Gift. She runs up and down the stairs, reporting how many more minutes it will be until I am permitted to come up and see my gift. Her excitement is sweet if not contagious, and I watch her from over the top of my laptop monitor with some amusement as she dances in and out with her updates.
I hear her pounding down the steps and she hits the door full tilt to my office.
“It’s so cool!” she reports. She has just brought this word home from school, and she is judicious in her use of it. Curiosity stretches in me like a cat.
“It’s READY” she bellows through a space she has found under the kitchen sink, a space in which you can, if you are a small eely eight year old girl, talk directly to the person in the basement, if that person were sitting at the computer desk, which I often am. The business is busy these days, so I didn’t come up right away. But when the second call comes drifting from the ceiling “SAAAAAAN-DRY!” ( a nickname I now think of as my Na’vi name) I start catching some of her excitement. What is this present, that it has her so excited?
She leads me down the long narrow hallway of our Victorian and in there it is, learning rakishly in front of the fireplace, gleaming.
“IT’S A BIKE!” I shout, in unison with the little one.
It is not just a bike, it is THE bike: it is white and sleekly urban, with shiny black fenders and a most excellent glove-leather seat. The h points out its attributes: it is a city bike for the streets of San Francisco, with 21 gears that can be shifted with a flick of the wrist.
But just like a woman, my mind is on accessories, like a bike bell the silver kind that goes rrrring rrrring! when you push the little silver lever. A basket, maybe silver, for the back where the h has thoughtfully installed a rack . And streamers for the handle grips, of course – shiny black ones (preferably sparkly). I imagine them fluttering and snapping in the breeze I create as I ride up the hill that is just around the corner from our house. It’s a big long hill and I can’t wait to ride it because I’m weird that way about going uphill – I actually look forward to it – but also because I’ll have to go slowly and that will give all the car traffic a good long chance to get an admiring eyeful of my Totally.Awesome.Cool. new bike.
The h waits for me to notice that it is a Schwinn; when I do, my eyes feel damp.
“We’ll have so much fun bike riding!” the little one hollers, jumping with excitement.
It is the most beautiful bike in the world, I tell him. A bonafide jaw dropping combo gift.