From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

“Little Mike”: The Tale of What Really Happened to His Bicycle

The question for each man to settle is not what he would do if he had the means, time, influence and educational advantages, but what he will do with the things he has.

Hamilton Wright Mabie

It was over sixty years ago, and I remember the day Dad brought home that muddy, broken piece of rusted junk he called a bicycle. Dad was always bringing home old stuff and fixing it up. He was a real craftsman. He said it was his way to keep his mind off the “bad stuff.” He was a Ramsey County deputy sheriff in Minnesota.

I didn’t have a bike, but it was very clear in my mind that this beat-up derelict wasn’t the kind of bike I planned to own. Mine would have glistening chrome wheels, a rearview mirror, plus an electric headlight, and horn.

Maybe even a siren!

Mom started complaining about that “piece of junk” leaning against the side of the house. Dad explained, with the saddest face I have ever seen, that he had recently encountered a little boy who had lost his parents in a tragic accident. Dad called him “Little Mike” and said he was about my age.

He further explained that Little Mike had been placed in the county orphanage. Whenever we drove by that orphanage and Dad would point out Little Mike’s room, I would insist that we stop. I wanted to see him, be his friend. Dad would decline, telling me we had more urgent chores to do that day. I always left on the verge of tears.

Dad seemed unusually concerned about Little Mike and mentioned him often. The boy had lost everything! He said he had a plan that might help Little Mike feel a little less lonely and asked if I would like to help. His plan was simple. He was going to fix up that junky old bike and present it to Little Mike as a surprise. I thought it was a super idea!

We began the makeover. We sanded off the faded paint and rust down to mirror-bright bare metal. My father was a magician with a paintbrush and the gleaming new paint job looked great. Together we hunted for all kinds of replacement parts. We polished the chrome. Dad carefully replaced bent and broken spokes. He taught me how to install a new chain. We did a terrific job! He asked me what else could be added. I quickly volunteered that a rearview mirror, electric headlight, and horn would be super. We quickly added them. What a beauty!

I was excited! The long anticipated moment had arrived. We were finally ready to deliver the bike to its unsuspecting new owner. That never happened.

You see, there never was a tragic accident, there never was a county orphanage, and most of all, there never was a Little Mike. It just happened that the day this glorious gift was to be delivered was also my birthday.

The project in which I had so willingly participated over these many weeks was an elaborate charade concocted by Mom and Dad to surprise me with a bike for my birthday. Their major concern was how the bike could be a birthday surprise and yet be hidden from me for what they knew would be at least three months of evenings during the restoration process. “Little Mike” was their answer. The sell job they did on me would make any award-winning actor pale by comparison.

The time Dad and I spent together is unforgettable. It’s what they now call “quality” time. I loved that bicycle but often wish there really had been a “Little Mike.”

Bob Weber

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