The Leslie Story: Sometimes Dad Does Know Best
When I was young, my family had a mini-bike. A mini-bike is kind of like a scooter, but it’s not nearly as refined as a scooter. Our mini-bike was literally just a steel frame with a taped-together seat and a lawn-mower engine.
My dad would fix the mini-bike and we would drive it for a few months until something broke on it again. Then Dad would wait a year or so and fix it again, and over the course of my childhood I saw this cycle repeat over and over again. I actually have a video clip of my sister Betsy taking me for a ride on the mini-bike when I was only a few years old. It was originally shot on super-8 film, can you believe that? Here it is:
I have a story about this mini-bike that as I retold it for my boys years later, it became one of their favorite stories. There have been months-long periods of time where they wanted to hear this story every night when I put them to bed. It’s got a good lesson, but I’m not sure why they enjoyed it so much. Here it is for posterity’s sake:
When I was a young boy, my family had a mini-bike. This mini-bike was treasured by my brothers and sisters for years, and riding it through the fields surrounding our house was a favorite pastime of my brothers and sisters since before I was even born.
When I was about 12 years old, my siblings had all outgrown the family mini-bike, so I could pretty much have it all to myself.
Now we lived in the country and didn’t have neighbors across the street like we do in the suburbs, but there was a subdivision down the road where a few of my school friends lived. They lived in nice new houses, I lived in a farm house, but I was the only one with a mini-bike.
My dad told me that I could ride my mini-bike anywhere I wanted as long as it wasn’t on the street, and I was not allowed to give anyone else a ride.
I learned that if I drove across the alf-alfa field behind my house, down into the slate quarry, up into the junkyard, then through the forest where the hills went up-and-down, up-and-down, up-and-down, I would end up in the subdivision where my friends lived.
This was great fun for me. In about 5 minutes time, I could go from my house to this neighborhood to play with my friends.
When I would ride the mini-bike there, they would all want me to take them for rides on my mini-bike. This was fine with me because my dad would never know.
One day, my best friend Mike’s younger sister, who must have been about 10, wanted a ride on my mini-bike. I told her to hop on back, and off we went.
We only went a few hundred feet until I noticed something was wrong. The mini-bike was slowing down and Leslie started screaming. After coming to a complete stop, I realized that one of Leslie’s pant legs (bell-bottom jeans, remember those?) had gotten caught in the chain, and it had puller her leg up against the hot lawnmower engine.
There was nothing I could do. I pulled and I pulled, but I couldn’t free her leg from being tight up against the engine.
Fortunately, the mother of one of my other friends saw what was happening out her kitchen window. She came running with a pair of scissors, and as quickly as she could, she freed Leslie from her agonizing pain.
I didn’t know what to do. Leslie was obviously still hurting and the woman was helping her limp back to her house, but there was nothing that I could do to make the situation better.
I got back on my mini-bike, started it up and rode up-and-down, up-and-down, up-and-down, through the junkyard, through the slate quarry, across the alf-alfa field, and into my garage. Sheepishly I snuck into the house and planted myself in front of the TV.
A few hours later I had mostly put the incident out of mind when I heard the phone ring. My dad answered and I heard him say, “Yes, uh-huh. No, I didn’t know that. I see. Well, I apologize, he was not supposed to do that. You may send me the bill and I’ll pay for it.”
I realized that my dad was talking to one of Leslie’s parents. After Dad hung up the phone, he called me over. “Bruce?”
He told me that he had just gotten off the phone with Mrs. George, Leslie’s mother. He told me that they had just gotten back from the doctor. Then he said that he thought he told me not to let anyone take rides on the mini-bike.
I must have looked pretty pathetic already because he didn’t punish me any more than this short lecture.
I felt terrible. My dad had trusted me, and I let him down. I thought that what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt anyone, but my dad actually knew better than I did.
Years later when I was 16, I went with a friend to a local lake for a swim. We were definitely at the age where we were noticing girls. A cute little red-head sun-bathing in a bikini caught my eye, and I nudged my friend to make sure he saw her too. I thought this girl was so beautiful, except she had an ugly rectangular scare on her lower-left leg. Then I realized that this cute girl was Leslie, and that scar was my fault.
I’m not sure what part of this story appealed to my kids the most. I know it was a good lesson for all of us.