It was Christmas 1972. Sydney, Australia. All I had ever wanted was a bike. My mom had become a private detective, and we had been able to move from our Housing Commission flat (public housing) to an apartment in Bellevue Hill. It was one of the better areas of Sydney, and very important to my single mom. Tall, elegant, British, she had fallen on hard times, and then found a way to bring herself back. I was 10.
She drove out to Fairfield, on the outskirts of Sydney, about two hours at that time, to buy the bike, but wasn't prepared for it to need assembly. Her boss, Fitz, agreed to come around on Christmas Eve after I was asleep, and with her crude tool kit of a small hammer and a single screwdriver, put it all together.
Fitz, a huge man, his gun left on the sideboard by the door, was so excited, he couldn't wait to be told all about my response to it, and insisted I was woken at 1:00 a.m. I was beside myself, I got on it straight away to ride up our big hallway. First the left pedal fell off, then the handle bars on the dragster went forwards so I was lying across the front of it, then the banana seat and cissy bar went backwards so I was on some weird 1970s exercise bike that threatened any future development of my "lady parts." I was sent to bed while they reconsidered the tools needed (clearly a spanner!) But it is my best Christmas memory.
I've moved to the U.S. this year, to develop my career as a voice artist and comedian, and Mom died in 2008. I miss her.
At our poorest, I got a bath towel for Christmas. I can still remember it. Velour on one side and towelling on the other, it was white with a fringe and a blue flower. Then, when I wanted a puppy, I got a budgerigar, later when I wanted a bike, I got a scooter. It wasn't like the other kid's scooters, my presents never were. Mom always missed out on getting what was "popular" and chose something "interesting" instead. At the time, I always felt like I was out of whack, but now I see it as something precious. I thought my scooter was magic, I could ride it down the hill, get off it and let it keep going, then run like crazy to catch up and get on again. I thought it held all the power.
I've tried to remember other years when I got just what I wanted, but I can't remember a single time. I am sure there were many, and I am sure that as Mom's business grew and she was able to buy me more, there were many presents under the tree. But nothing will replace that memory of the bike.
Mom loved Christmas, and after she remarried, she would buy herself presents for her husband to give her, and I would struggle as a teenager, giving her gloves, breadboards, kitchen things... she loved cooking. But we would often remember that year with our metal silver Christmas tree, in her first apartment when she was back on her feet, and when she was able to buy me what I truly wanted. It's not really the bike that I remember.
The reality of being a woman — by the numbers. Learn more