It was February, 1942 and World War II was still in progress. Gas, sugar, metal and nylons were some of the items that were rationed. In Charleston, South Carolina, like the rest of America, we had black curtains at our windows and air raid drills at night. My Daddy was an Air Raid Warden and I was so proud of him. He would put his arm band on, get his flashlight and go out the door as soon as the siren sounded. He made me feel safe because he was protecting me and yet a little afraid of what might happen. We had all seen the News reports at the Movies. I was going to be nine on February 24th and the war was the last thing on my mind. In my world, nothing seemed to have changed. My parents made me feel loved and safe.  After all , my Daddy was an Air Raid Warden. I wanted a shiny new twenty-four inch blue two wheel bicycle for my birthday. In my usual fashion, I began my campaign for that bike almost as soon as Christmas was over. I was certain that it would be my instantaneous ticket to freedom. I pictured myself riding to Moultrie Playground, Colonial Lake, the Public Library and visiting my friends who lived on Gadsden Street. In my mind, I was pedaling like the wind with my pigtails flying behind me. My over active imagination began to run rampart like it did so very often. I dreamed about my new bike and talked incessantly about it to anyone who would listen and many who did not want to hear it.
Momma tried to warn me. “Annie, you might not get just exactly what you want. New Bicycles are very expensive especially with the war still on.”
I, of course, being the type of child that I was, ignored what I didn’t want to hear. My glass was always half full and more often than not, it would land on empty when reality set in.  In my child’s mind I thought, Our soldiers don’t need bicycles. They need tanks and jeeps. So what did the War have to do with my bike?
Finally, it was February twenty-fourth, my birthday, the day I would receive my shiny new 24 inch blue two wheel bike that would have a basket hung from the handlebars and a bell to ring. Momma fixed my favorite breakfast of French Toast and gave me a great big Birthday hug and sent me off to school. As I took the “Ankle Express” (as my friend, Claudia Burdell’s Daddy called it) to Crafts School, I could picture myself pedaling down those streets. I skipped and sang the whole way to School. When you ride a bicycle, keep cool as an icicle. Don’t do tricks you think you know, Cause you saw them in the show. When you ride a bicycle, keep cool as an icicle. I could not have been happier. I could barely make it through the school day and told all of my friends that I was getting my two wheeler today…but not just any old two wheel bike, it would be blue and shiny and new. When school was out, I practically ran home as fast as my short legs would let me. When I burst through our Charleston green door, I began to look for my bike. It was nowhere to be seen, and believe me, I looked everywhere. In fact, there was no one at home. What a bummer and it was my birthday.
As I walked into our kitchen, I saw a plate of cookies and a note that Momma had written.
“ Annie, I left out some cookies for you. Get a glass of milk and do your homework. I will be home soon. Love, Momma xoxo.”
Once again, my mind began to race. There were places I’d go, far and near for I had dreams in my brain and pedals on my feet. I’d ride like the pelicans that soar with the wind and sail like a sailboat caught in a storm. I’d go up streets and down streets and all over the town. My shiny blue bike could take me wherever I’d steer. It would have a shiny bell that I would ring as I passed by people  and I’d wave a merry hello. I’d name my shiny blue bike Betsy and she’d be like a friend. Oh, I wish Momma would get home so I could finally see Betsy. By the time she got there, I was a nervous wreck and without a bike named Betsy I might add.
That evening, no one mentioned the bike all through dinner. Momma brought out my cake with nine candles glowing and told me to make a wish and blow them out. I wished so hard for that bike, I almost willed it to appear. They sang Happy Birthday to me and I was beginning to wonder if it really would be a happy birthday. After we had eaten the cake and ice cream, Daddy called me to come out on our piazza (or porch as some would say.)
I knew it, I knew it. My new bike will be out on the porch, all blue and shiny with a basket and a bell, my Betsy.
As I walked out the door, there sat my twenty-four inch two wheel bicycle but it certainly was not what I had pictured. It was a used bicycle that my Daddy had painted blue. It didn’t have that shiny look to it at all. He even painted the chains and handlebars with silver paint. There he stood holding that recycled bike as proud as punch with his handiwork and delighted to give it to me. Betsy had a new basket and a shiny bell, the only things I liked about her.
I tried to hide my disappointment, but I am certain that I didn’t succeed. My eyes had a way of rolling even though I did not direct them to do so. I was pretty demonstrative with my feelings but I fought back the tears that were beginning to well up in my eyes. I gave him a big hug and thanked him, then like a martyr went to my room.
The next day, I did not ride my bike to school. I didn’t want to show it to anyone. I thought they would tease me about getting an old bike. My over active imagination took hold of my brain and I created more scenarios than anyone could possibly imagine. Maybe I won’t name that old thing Betsy, maybe it’s not even worthy enough to have a name.
When school was out, Momma encouraged me to ride my bike to Moultrie Playground. She felt my disappointment. I figured I had to make a maiden voyage on Betsy at some point, so it might as well be now. So off I went riding in the sunset like an old cowboy who discovered he was riding a mule instead of a beautiful mare. Everything worked okay. I didn’t ring her  new bell because I didn’t want to bring any attention to this ugly old blue bike. If I didn’t look at it, I could imagine that it was new and shiny. None of my friends said anything bad about my bike, if fact those who had none, were envious. (I could not imagine why anyone would be jealous of this old ugly bike.)
As I pedaled Betsy home that afternoon, feeling sorry for myself, I heard a big crunch and the pedals stopped turning. The silver painted chain had come off it’s track. I got off and tried to walk it home but it was practically impossible because the chain kept getting caught in the wheel spokes. Tears began to slowly stream down my cheeks, colliding with the dirt on my face. It made me look like I’d been to The Cut and Curl Hair Salon and gotten a mud pack from Miss Lillian, not to mention the grease from the chain that had gotten all over my legs and my dress. One of our neighbors happen to be passing by and noticed my dilemna. He stopped and took the chain off and put it in my new basket (at least that was new) and I was able to walk the bike the rest of the way home.  Sure as shooting, I thought God was punishing me for being so self centered.
I opened our Charleston green door that led to the street, walked the bike inside and parked it. I ran in the house and went straight to my room. I sobbed in my pillow for what seemed like hours.
Momma came into my room. “You know there is nothing that can’t be fixed.”
“It can’t be fixed cause it’s old and ugly and doesn’t even work. I hate that bike and I’m not going to call it Betsy anymore either.”
“Well, that’s too bad because it’s the only bike you have. I think your Daddy put a lot of work into it to make you happy. You are being ridiculous and ungrateful I might add.”
“I’m sorry Momma,” I said but I didn’t mean it and she knew that I didn’t. I could feel how unhappy she was with me, but at that moment, I did not care.  I wouldn’t think about God either because He would probably bring down His wrath on me.
But as the days went by, I rode old Betsy everywhere. She became like an old ugly friend.  Betsy took me places like Coburg Dairy and Folly Beach with my Girl Scout Troop, to the Library on Rutledge Avenue, and to school and to visit friends on Gadsden Street and many other places. I saw landscapes that I might never have seen without her. That bike gave me the freedom to go all over Charleston. I must admit, I never liked that bike but as Momma said, it was the only one I had. I put many miles on that ugly old blue bike. It was my vehicle to freedom, at least in my young world. Betsy served me well.
Years would pass after my blue bike days. Twenty years after I married my husband, I told him about old Betsy. That year, he bought me a twenty-four inch Schwinn bicycle for my birthday. It was yellow and shiny with a bell and a basket. I loved him for getting it after I told him the story of my blue bike. It was given in the spirit of love just as my blue bike had been.
It made me recall what an ungrateful little girl I was. When I think about that blue bike now, I can see my Daddy’s face and I remember  how hard he worked to make me happy.
I didn’t realize that World War II was still going on and metal was so scarce. I didn’t know that he had bartered with a client to get that bike. My parents made me feel so secure and loved that the war seemed so far away from my dreams. I know if I could do it all over again, I would probably be that same little ungrateful girl and that pains my soul. I wish I could tell my Daddy how much I appreciated what he had done for me, all the sweat and muscle that went into restoring that bike, but it is too late to do that. It is one of my regrets in life. However, I never missed a opportunity to tell my parents how much that I loved them. That too, was part of my nature. I smile when I think of my nine year old self riding that ugly old blue bike that was recycled with so much love. It was my ticket to a world behind our Charleston green door.  A passage to ride like the wind, to fly with the seagulls; an opening to the landscapes beyond my imagination. It brought worlds to me that I would have never seen. I could ride to the Library and spend hours with books that I loved or go to my friends’ houses and play Red Rover. I thank my parents for knowing  what I needed at that time in my life. My sister would tell me many years later as I recalled the feeling I had about my ugly blue bike named Betsy, “I loved that bike. I thought it was wonderful,” she told me.  I am so glad that she gave that old bike the love that it so richly deserved because I certainly never did. It took me many years to know what a wonderful gift my Daddy had given me and I was too self centered to realize it. I hope he knew how much I appreciated the gifts he gave me, not the bike or the doll house that he made or so many other things he hand crafted, but the gift of loving someone so much that you want to make them happy. I wish he was here so that I could tell him those words. I was blessed to have the most wonderful parents in the universe. I hope that I have given my children at least an inkling of what my parents gave me, their unconditional love. As young people text today. #legacy#love#unconditional


  1. Pingback: WHEN YOU RIDE A BICYCLE, KEEP COOL AS AN ICICLE | anticsbyannie

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