Su Lum: Slumming
September 27, 2011
When my daughters, Hillery and Skye, were in their teens, they were preoccupied with appearances.
One day our old Honda station wagon began billowing clouds of black smoke down in what’s now Rio Grande Park. Fortunately this happened within yards of our auto mechanic, who occupied one of the little shops in what became Obermeyer Place.
My old bicycle was in the back of the wagon, so I suggested that one of them ride the bike home (a matter of a few blocks) while I made arrangements with the repair shop. Both girls reacted with astounding vehemence. “I’m not going to be seen on that thing,” “Don’t ask me to ride it!”
Now in their advanced years, my daughters have an altered view of the bike. Just the other day Hillery asked if I still had it and was relieved to hear that it was in the back shed.
Hillery had a special relationship with the bike because several years after she refused to ride it, the bike got stolen. My old rattletrap bike, which I loved because it had both hand and foot brakes, swiped right in front of The Aspen Times. Who the hell would want that bike? And two years after the theft, Hillery found it in front of a condominium and stole it back.
“I have a surprise for you,” she said and, beaming, led me into the living room where my bike rested on its rickety kickstand. It was like finding a pet which had long ago disappeared without a trace.
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When I was growing up, my mother’s mother, the “rich” and feared grandmother from Alabama, would occasionally give the family a major gift – a new refrigerator, an Electrolux vacuum cleaner and, in 1951, a brand-new Studebaker Champion, the ugliest car on the planet.
This was a little different from my kids’ reaction to being seen on my old bicycle, in that the entire family was horrified by this bomb-nosed hideosity – embarrassed to be seen driving around in it in all its flashiness and chartreuse color.
My parents were modest people of modest means. My Alabama grandmother wasn’t really all that rich, but she owned some Studebaker stock and had her loyalties. Distant relatives were part of the picture, one of whom, a partner in the company, killed himself when the Studebaker stocks crashed.
Once given the new car, my parents had to bite the bullet – we couldn’t afford a second car, hiding away the green monster until my grandmother arrived for her annual (dreaded) visits and then trotting it out.
I was a freshman in high school when the Studebaker arrived, so it was a few years before I learned to drive (my mother jumped out of the car once, and my father, who never raised his voice, screamed, “Step on the brakes! Step on the goddamned brakes!”) and faced the dilemma of the freedom transport versus the mortification of driving the Studebaker.
We all have our price. Faced with a long hike rather than a short ride on my old bicycle, my kids would probably have swallowed their pride and ridden double on the bike.
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