You can call me Kit, or Kitty, or K. Just don’t call me Kate, or Katey like my mom tries to call me because she thinks it is so “ladylike” and “proper”. It’s Kitty with my friends, and I think that we are going to be very friendly when I tell you my story.
So, nothing happens in my town. We live near the ocean and it is colder than cold after November, so when we have Christmas or New Year’s Day, we gotta stay inside and keep the fireplace full of driftwood or whatever scraps we can grab from the lumberyard my dad works at (he always worries that we won’t have enough to keep our place warm for the four or five months we will need to have ready, but we do…usually). The job is busier than ever when the cold comes in, and daddy (I mean, dad) never would let us freeze. He would never do that.
We live pretty much isolated around here. I go to school, for now (momma wants me to work soon, but I know dad wants me to think about doing something different in life). It was just a new century three years ago and people are saying things about how America needs to grab its future and think about a new plan for itself. I was only ten when we had those fireworks and the parties and the food, punch and homemade gifts from family and relatives, but I remember all of it. Then we had a president with big teeth and big ideas who made it all seem real. Daddy must have been listening to him because he really put it into my head that I could do anything “I put my beautiful mind to”. He must have been thinking of my grades, but I never thought about anything bigger than just getting out of this place one day. And a new bicycle.
I knew how to ride one and could go faster than the kids in the neighbourhood (Fat Josie and Greasy Gary were no good on theirs, ha ha), but my mom was all against me getting one of my own, even if it was my birthday soon. Daddy – Dad, I mean – did not say a thing about it. I understood, and I made sure not to press him on it. The one I had been riding was built by his brother, and I knew that if I talked about him, it was all over.
Yeah, I guess I better talk about Uncle K.
He was the best! If you wanted to know anything about what was going on in other towns and villages, or even around the world, he knew. He saw the Statue of Liberty up close, went to see the flickers once (he promised he would take me to see one about men on the moon when he could), and even used a real camera (thought he was lying about that ‘til he brought it over and we just stared at the box and cape for an hour; I didn’t even think of taking our picture until he called us all together). Every time he showed up, it was like a new lesson, but with a teacher you actually liked, right? You know what I mean? He called me Kitty, did not think of talking to me like a girl, and always said that he was going to surprise me when I became a teenager.
And he did.
Now, my birthday is just over a week before Christmas, which is really rotten for me, or any other kid in the same spot. I always wondered if I would get a gift both times, but usually I had to settle for one. My baby brother was born last year, and I understood that this would involve saving the pennies for his sake. So, one gift…again. But I was also now a teenager. Thirteen years old, and my mother still tried to treat me like I was just out of short pants and could not comb my own hair yet (better than Fat Josie any day). So, I did not really plan on doing a thing except cleaning up the house and trying to stay warm.
And then Uncle K. showed up with his camera and a great big smile on his face “for his favourite new young lady”.
I should have known he was up to something.
“Uncle K., you know it’s my birthday soon, so I know you got a surprise for me.”
He was impressed by this.
“Young lady, I travelled all this way to just give you a gift? Maybe I just wanted to enjoy the weather.”
That was a joke even momma laughed at; dad was a little more suspicious.
“Okay, don’t tease the girl. What did you get her?”
“Well, it’s not what I got; it is what I have to show her.”
Now we were all confused.
“You are probably old enough to see this and remember it for a long time.”
Momma and daddy – dad! – were beginning to wonder if he had lost his brains somewhere.
“There is something happening up at the beach. Something that you all gotta see.”
Momma laughed. “Now? In the winter? They having a swimming contest?”
Dad smiled and tried not to laugh. “I think we’ll stay where it’s warm and sane for now.”
“C’mon! This is something you are going to remember forever.”
He looked me up and down and grinned that grin.
“What about you, young lady? Old enough to make your own choices yet?”
I looked around the place. Momma had laundry left over in a basket. Dad had just filled up the fireplace and was sitting with the paper in that old rocking chair. The baby was finally sleeping and I had just nothing better to do.
“Let’s see it.”
Was it special? I thought so, but the people around us were just taking bets on when it would crash and how much longer those two would try to get the thing to work. We walked up the hill from the water and saw a few people we knew. Fat Josie’s dad was there for some reason, as was Greasy Gary’s uncle. And some other people who must have come with the crazy ones; those brothers.
“Crazy? Why kid?” My uncle was setting up the camera he brought.
“I know that they…glide, right? But you put a motor in that thing and it’s too heavy, anything can happen.”
“Hmmm…smart thinking.” He was still smiling.
“And the wind will just…”
“What about it?”
“The wind can strip the skin off you here, if you aren’t careful. That man is going to run next to the thing and the other is going to lie in the middle while it goes up. Just hope they understand that.”
“I think they do, Kit.” He was all set up with the camera, drawing almost as much attention as the two guys who had their machine ready and were about to run it.
“Just hope they are safe with it.”
“They will be.”
It was special. No one crashed and no one got hurt. They only did it for a few minutes and then tried it again a few times, but that first time… Uncle K. got his photo and that was when I thought I saw something special in all this. He would have to get the plates back to make the pictures, but what we remembered would be more important than anything else we had on record.
He even let me take one, y’know. I stood under the blanket, waited until they were in the air, and then, pop! I think that will come out all right.
They even let me touch it. Their flyer, or Flyer I, they called it. I thought it was kinda like a large bird that needed a bit of a push to get going, but they got it up there, wind and all. And then there was one more surprise as we drove back.
“Bicycles… That’s how they did it.”
“Naahh. You’re joking now.”
“You think I’m lying, lady? Here.” Uncle K., when the camera was set back in his truck, showed me the newspaper.
“Bike shop…Wilber and Orville…specializing in…”
“Wow. Wish they brought one.”
“Oh, yeah, about that…”
I saw it and almost jumped out of the truck when we passed behind our place.
“Hey…!” I ran up as Uncle K. parked and looked it. “How did you…?”
“They brought it for you and I told them to drop it off before we came back. Guess someone did it when we were packing up. You should thank them.”
“I will!” I was still looking it over when he spoke.
“And did you see what they put on it?”
I was confused by that, but then I saw it, right on the side under the seat next to their names on the metal running up to it:
“Kitty’s Wind Rider”
My own bike. My real own bike, and not something handed down to me or put together in a junkyard.
“Happy birthday, Kit.”
We hugged out there, right with the cold and the wind hitting us up. I knew that I would never forget this and was glad when I thought about the photo and the fact that some people from the town were still lingering and could see my new ride. Along with seeing that “aeroflyer” and those two crazy brothers, it was the best birthday I ever had.
I wonder if I ever thanked them.