Freedom \'fred-em\ n 1: the quality or state of being free; as a: the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action b: liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another: INDEPENDENCE c: the quality or state of being exempt or released usu. from something onerous < ~ from care> d: EASE, FACILITY <spoke the language with ~> e: the quality„ or being frank, open, or outspoken <answer the questions with ~> f: improper familiarity g: boldness of conception or execution h: unrestricted use <gave him the ~ of their home> 2 a: a political right b: FRANCHISE, PRIVILEGE
Always wanted a bike. Wanted one because everybody else had one. Never much thought about the possible autonomy it would give. The feeling of the good clean air blowing across my face, through my hair. Never spent time costing my parents' fear, a bike's upkeep and maintenance. Time.
"Everyone else had one!"
Learned to ride on my friend Janet's bike, on a gravel road, in secret. Knees and elbows scraped, face bleeding, I'd come home carrying my secret; waiting to offer my parents this accomplishment, when complete. An unarguable, compelling fact.
Daddy was a hard rock miner, a bar man. Into freshly blasted tunnels, he'd bar up the overhangs and potential slides. He made things safe. A bar man had steady days and a danger differential. Important things but, it was more. I knew. Everyone knew. It was more than that.
I don't remember him ever taking a sick day. Even when he was injured, he'd trudge off to work, head down, broken toe wrapped and hidden, muttering about safety records and vacation time soon. "Things need to be done', he'd say."
A good union job, there were occasionally strikes and shutdowns. Some of them long. Some of them really long. People suffered. We didn't. There were no late night conferences at our house, no cutting back, no sharing of grief, no whining, no fear. Had the men around town, their clothes and hands and faces covered in the mine's glory, not been missing and the distant, somehow comforting blasting underground not been lost for a while, I don't know if, as a child I'd even have noticed. Except once.
They were 'out' from before school vacation. Summer was always good and that one was long and hot; extra fishing trips, more barbecues, our lawn, Dad's joy, thick and good and green with health and care. Towards the end, when the air was crisp and the feeling of school was clawing at the edges of my mind, they came.
Food baskets from the Union.
There they were at the door. Unsuspecting, noble virtuous individuals; hearts warm, empowered by their selflessness. Three of them. All men. I can't remember who answered the door, but I know it wasn't Dad. Know it wasn't me. Whoever answered the door spent a few minutes uncertain, then they went to get Dad.
One of his favourite phrases, 'like a bull in a china shop', Dad raged to the door. I was standing in our front room looking out the big picture window. I was higher than the street and our house was on a short incline, the entire subdivision on a hill. Our block unfolded on either side and off towards the horizon there was massive beauty; mountain hills covered with trees and clouds, expectant snow and distance. Off to the side was our steep sloped driveway.
Red ribbon rolling down the driveway, bow holding its own at the top caught in the tiny pores of the concrete. Apples and oranges, bags of tea, cans of tuna, salmon, crackers. A pineapple! Wicket basket. My Dad, a big man, a hard rock miner, a barman, a charging bear. Small town, diversion hard to come by, neighbours peeking through curtains; watching. Hoping. Daddy roaring, flailing, offended, provoked, incensed, a palpable vapor.
"Charity! Welfare! I take care of my own!
Ringing, echoing, dancing in the cool, fall's coming air. This was display, a peacock's tail unfolding, a stallion's hooves raised to the ready, a bull moose's horns down.
Unsuspecting, at a loss, heads turned, keeping an eye, solidarity gone, every man for himself, those carriers of food baskets scattered down the driveway stiff legged. Fumbling at car door handles, panic and fear and something else on their faces. More fumbling with keys and locks and gas pedals and dread. Ducking, quite safe, but ducking, tea bags and oranges, mint chocolates and grinning rage raining on their car roof. Daddy, at no loss, at them, forever at them, until finally the car floated down the street, round the corner and, courage back, they too roared down the back hill.
Indignation wafting in the air, the neighbour's curtains slid back and Daddy puffed into the house. No appreciate audience, it was over.
I don't know who cleaned up the street and driveway. I wanted that basket, but was pretty sure I'd better not ask. A few days later it was back to school and soon there was a call back to the mine. There were other shutdowns and strikes but no more food baskets came. Not to us anyways. Maybe not to anyone.
Come to think of it, it wasn't Janet's bike, it was her brother's bike. Learning to swing my leg up and over that, too high for me bar, was a hard one but, I did it! Got my own bike when I was 12. Mom presented me with an old rusty wreck, tires fat and big. Whole thing too big really. Not like the sleek banana-seat bikes "everyone else had". We sanded the rust off, Mom and I, painted it bright red and white, saved collected pop-bottle money for a brand new seat and some streamers and, before the boys came, I spent some time roaring into the distance myself.