“ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?” by Valerie Fletcher Adolph
The war was over! My father was home!
His absence during most of the war years had been devastating. I was an only child and I had felt bereft when he had to leave us. His return, for me, meant relief and contentment. It was not like that for the family though. With so many men returning from war and war work jobs were scarce. My father was one of many. He was older and greyer than most of the men coming back. It seemed that most employers were looking for someone younger, stronger.
For the several months my father was unemployed our family finances suffered. To me as a child, this meant very few treats. We bought nothing that wasn’t absolutely necessary. We made things last, we took care of our possessions. Carelessness was not tolerated. Everything we owned was kept clean and well-maintained. Somehow we scraped by.
I was very much aware of how careful we were with everything we owned. Food was not wasted, clothing was made to last, even though I had a bad habit of growing out of my dresses. I could not have a dog because dogs ate too much.
Even so, being a child, I nagged and nagged for what I wanted. I wanted a bike. I pointed out that all the other kids had bikes, even those younger than me. Janice down the street had a bike and she couldn’t even ride it. It wasn’t fair.
My nagging paid dividends. One evening my father came home wheeling a bike for me.
Looking back, this happened about the time he finally landed a job so perhaps there was a little money in the kitty. It was not a new bike, it needed some minor repairs. My father did those and I rode around the streets showing off my new bike and my ability to ride it.
“You take care of it,” my father warned. “It has to last.”
He did not need to tell me that. Like everything else, of course the bike would have to last.
A few weeks later, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in May, my father borrowed a bike from the man two doors down and suggested that the two of us go for a ride. “Let’s go out into the country. We can take some sandwiches and explore the lanes for the whole day.”
It sounded like heaven to me – I’d have my dad to myself for the day and ride my bike too.
So off we went on roads less and less travelled until we were on rough gravelled lanes. It was a perfect day, warm with a breeze, hedgerows full of birds, buttercups tall in the grass. I watched a small rabbit scuttle across the lane in front of me.
In that moment of inattention my front wheel hit a large stone. My momentum stalled, I flew over the handlebars and landed on the rough lane, the bicycle on top of me.
I lay there, the air knocked out of me. I thought I might be dead or dying. Then a thought hit me, I had broken the cardinal rule – I had not taken proper care of my possession. The bike had to be damaged, it could even be damaged beyond repair. I was going to be in so much trouble, starting with a tongue lashing about my irresponsibility. I hoped I was dead or dying.
But it didn’t seem like it. I was alive and I was going to have to face the music. I lay in the stony lane, as still as I could, trying to delay the inevitable. At last I had to open my eyes and start crawling from under the bike. I looked back at my father who had stopped his bike behind me and was gazing down, horrified.
I knew why he was horrified – the bike must be broken beyond repair. I opened my mouth to croak out words about being truly, truly sorry. But he spoke first.
In a voice full of concern and love he asked, “Are you all right?”
It took me a long minute to grasp the meaning behind his words. It wasn’t the bike he cared about, it was me! He loved me more than the bike. I mattered more than the bike!
I paused in my crawling position to let his words sink in, to feel the full impact. My father got down and lifted the bike off me, picked me up and checked me over carefully for injuries. Even when he found I had only scrapes and road rash he still held on to me.
The bike was only scratched too, which was a huge relief to me but wasn’t as important to my father as I had expected. He was dabbing the blood from the scratch on my leg as I tried to apologize for not taking care of the bike.
“I’m sorry. I was trying to be careful.”
“It’s just a bike.” He said, hugging me tight.