HOFFSTEDT: A never-forgotten August birthday

It was August 1944, and my 10th birthday was drawing near. It was World War II, and many things like certain foods, rubber and iron were very scarce — the things that we thought we couldn’t do without but did.
Aug 12, 2014


I heard all the talk about shortages, but to a 9-year-old, that didn’t register. I wanted a bicycle.
The morning of my 10th birthday, my folks told me to look in the living room. There stood a beautiful red bike. 
But something was not right. There were no fenders and no nameplate showing it was either a Schwinn or a Monarch, the two most popular bikes of that time. No nameplate at all. What the heck was this?  
Dad explained that, because of the war, Schwinns and Monarchs were not available. Being the clever mechanic that he was, he had scrounged all over for used bike parts and had welded and fastened them together to make a unique, one-of-a-kind bicycle for his son. He had it painted red in the shop paint booth where he worked as a tool and die maker.  
I didn’t care; I was thrilled.  
“Can I go out and ride it?” I cried. 
Dad was off to work and said the inevitable, “If it’s OK with your mom, go ahead.”  
“Alright,” she said, “go ahead, but only around the block.”
Around the block? Was she kidding? I had to ride the whole neighborhood to see if any of my pals were around to see my new gift. 
I couldn’t find anyone to feast their eyes on this bike with no name. I thought to myself that they were probably at the big lagoon in the park. No one was there; only a crazy kid with a new bike would be out so early.
Dejected, I was about to turn toward home when I saw two teenage boys walking the path next to the lagoon and coming in my direction. They came closer, and I saw that they were smoking and looked tougher than the kids I hung around with.  
“Hey kid,” one of them said. “Where’d you get that new bike?”  
I told them my story. 
“We ain’t got no bikes,” the other one said. “How come you got one?”  
I was getting scared. They both flipped their cigarettes into the lagoon and started toward me. I tried to pedal away, but they trapped me with one on each side. They started lifting me and the bike off the ground and walked toward the lagoon.  
“What are you doing?” I cried.  
“You’ll see.”  
With that, they threw me and my bike into the lagoon, laughed sneeringly, and ran back to where they came from.  
The lagoon was shallow, and underneath the water was a thick, slimy mud. I struggled to get me and the bike back on shore. Finally, I made it.  
The bike was covered in mud, and so was I — head to toe — so much mud that I couldn’t ride back home. So, I walked the four blocks and sobbed every step of the way. My new bike! What will mom say? I was supposed to go just around the block, not to the lagoon.  
I walked into the backyard and mom was hanging up the laundry. She took one look at me, said nothing, and went and got the hose. She washed me and the bike down with a steady stream of cold water.  
So, did my mom punish me for going beyond her set boundaries? Not really. I think that she thought I had been punished enough.
— By Richard Hoffstedt, Tribune community columnist


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