Saturday, November 26, 2016

What Ifs

I was recently contemplating the twists and turns of my life and the what if questions that accompany those sorts of thoughts. Of all of the 'what ifs' I contemplated, probably none seemed more inconsequential to me as the time when my dad turned down my request for a 10-speed bike.

But in reality, it was likely anything but inconsequential.

I was 14 and still a couple years away from getting my driver's license. A few years earlier my dad had found an abandoned gold-colored Schwinn 10-speed bike in the field of what is now Hubert Olson Jr High. He brought it home and spent an entire Saturday fixing it up and making it ridable -- I was maybe 10 or 11. I remember being out in the garage watching him work on it, figuring it was for him to ride.

When he completed the job he called me out into the garage to have a look. Before I could comment he turned to me and said: "it's yours."

I didn't know what to say.

Sure, he'd given it new life, the best he could, but it was still somebody's throw away and I thought it was ugly. I didn't like it and there was no hiding that from my dad. He sensed my ungratefulness and slammed his socket wrench hard to the concrete floor then proceeded to berate me. I felt terrible. I'd heard the stories about how he'd grown up with so little, and here I was turning my nose up at something he'd love to have had when he was my age. But surely he must have known that what I really wanted was an Orange Krate similar to what Miles Harvey had?

The unwanted bike remained in the garage until it was given to one of my siblings' friends. I don't believe I ever rode it. My dad would sometime later bring home a couple of new, purple stingray style bikes he'd picked up at Sears or some such place and give one each to Keith and me. It was no Orange Krate but it was new and shiny with a banana seat and dual brakes on the rear wheel. I never quite understood the brake arrangement. It mostly served me well.

At 14 when I'd outgrown my purple stingray and began desiring something that would take me further, I reluctantly approached my dad (sitting with my mom at the picnic table in our backyard) about getting a 10-speed bike similar to the one he'd fixed up for me. He turned me down without hesitation or an explanation. I wasn't surprised. There was apparently no forgiveness for my actions of a few years earlier so I offered no rebuttal.

Then how is it that I see his denying me a new bike a 'what if' moment in my life?

Because what if I had been given the bike I desired and then discovered at the age of 14 the benefits of being in shape and taking care of my body? I'm quite certain I never would've started smoking just a year later. What if I had embraced a much healthier lifestyle than the one I fell into—and the drugs? What if I actually did something with my time to instill a sense of confidence in me rather than stumbling through the next four years, eventually flunking out of life and ending up in the Navy? Where would my life have taken me had I not opted to enlist?

I ponder all of this because of the significant role my bikes have played in my life going back more than 40 years. They're nearly always present. They're a friend, waiting for me to take them out and talk about whatever's on my mind or just spending time together. They keep me accountable for not allowing myself to fall back to a lazy alternative to my life. I can't put it any simpler than that.

I have no idea what would've become of me had I gotten the bike of my dreams at 14. It seems a small and inconsequential consideration but it's not. I can only surmise and rest in the belief that I was meant to follow the path I've taken with its many hills, valleys, twists and turns that have led me to where I'm at today. I have some lingering second-guesses in my life but no regrets.

It would take several more years but I'd eventually get the bike of my dreams, and so much more. It was very much worth the wait.

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