My best memory of my father?” Andrew Jackson leaned back in his Adirondack chair, parked in its perpetual spot on the front lawn of the Jackson farm, and looked around at the assembled members of his family. The boys, Randy and Brady were there with their wives, Jackie and Amanda, Jennifer was there with her boyfriend Alan and Rose was in her usual chair with granddaughter Michaela perched happily on her lap.
“There are so many.” Andrew stared out across the yard in the direction of the pasture, where the cows and the sheep grazed on grass made lush by recent rain. “Teaching me to ride a bike,” he said, a hint of a smile on his lips. “I was six years old and the only bike we had was a full-size CCM men’s bike that someone had given us when they no longer wanted it themselves. When I sat on the seat my feet only reached about halfway to the pedals. I had been begging for a bike for quite some time. ‘You don’t even know how to ride a bike,’ Dad would say. ‘Why would I buy a bike for someone who doesn’t even know how to ride one?’ ‘But how can I learn to ride a bike,’ I would say, ‘if the only bike I have is one where my feet don’t reach the pedals?’”
Andrew paused and took a sip of lemonade before continuing.
“It was probably the 100th time I asked him when Dad finally said, ‘OK, the time has come. Follow me, boy.’ ‘What are we doing?’ I wanted to know. ‘We are learning how to ride a bike,’ Dad said.
A few minutes later I found myself in what I still remember as being one of the most physically awkward positions I’ve been in, in my life. Dad was holding that big bike upright. I was hanging on to the handlebars with my left foot on the left pedal, my right leg extended through the frame of the bike so my right foot could reach the right pedal.
“‘OK boy,’ Dad said. ‘Now all you have to do is balance,’ and he let go of the bike and I fell over on my side with the bike on top of me. ‘Good start,’ Dad said. ‘This will never work,’ I said. ‘Yes it will,’ he said. ‘No it won’t,’ I said. ‘Yes it will,’ he said. ‘No it won’t,’ I said. ‘We can sit here and argue till suppertime, or we can learn how to ride a bike,’ said Dad. ‘Your choice,’”
“In my memory,” said Andrew, “Dad and I were out there for days. My pants were tattered rags, my knees were scraped and bleeding, but there was no giving up. And on what seemed like the 1,000th try, my dad holding the bike, pushing me off to get me started, me listing to starboard like a sailboat in a hurricane, suddenly I got it. I found the centre of gravity, or whatever. And I was off to the races, my feet pedalling like crazy, the wind in my hair! I was free!
I drove for what felt like miles, but was probably about 50 feet. And then I stopped pedalling and I went one way and the bike went the other and we both skidded to a stop in the dust and gravel of the driveway, and a second later Dad was there scooping me up and shouting, ‘You did it, you did it! I never thought that would work!’”
Andrew took another sip of lemonade. “Dad was so proud of me,” he said. “He marched me into the house like we were soldiers returning from a war. ‘Get the boy some ice cream,’ he said to Mom. ‘He’s earned it,’ and Mom said, ‘honey you look like you’ve earned some yourself,’ and she brought each of us a cone with a double scoop of chocolate, which we only got on very, very special occasions.”
There was a moment of silence while the others looked at Andrew, waiting to see if the story had come to an end. Apparently it had.
“Did Grandpa buy you a new bike then?” asked Jennifer.
Andrew chuckled. “Nope,” he said. “We couldn’t afford a new bike. That was the whole point.”
Brady looked at his father quizzically. “You always got us bikes that were the right size,” he said. “You never made us learn to ride sidesaddle like that.”
“Of course not,” said Andrew. “It’s a ridiculous way to ride a bike.”
“What a great memory of your dad,” said Amanda.
There was another moment of silence.
“Happy Father’s Day,” said Rose raising her glass.
Andrew raised his in response.
“To everyone,” he said.