I remember it like it was yesterday. It was Christmas 1979 and I was twelve years old. After my brothers—Billy and Randy—and I had finished opening our presents and were sitting in a mountain of shredded wrapping paper, our grinning father said, “Go get your coats on, boys. Your mom and I have one more present for you.”
Donned in matching green snorkel jackets, we excitedly trudged across the frozen backyard all the way out to the shed. As the old man slid the key into the door’s padlock, he looked back at us and smiled even wider. “This gift is for the three of you to share,” he said before throwing open the door.
It was a blue mini-bike, a Honda CT 70. And although it was clearly used—its chipped paint showing signs of rust and the black leather seat cracked and split—it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. A rush of joy shot through my body, making me gasp. From the sound of my brothers’ muffled squeals, they were just as excited over the discovery.
Laughing over our reaction, Dad rolled the bike out of the shed and straddled it. He pointed toward a brand new full face helmet sitting on the lawn mower’s seat. “But safety comes first, boys,” he said.
My brother, Billy, snatched up the helmet and scurried over to the bike. Randy and I exchanged glances and then shrugs. Billy was the oldest, so he always got first dibs.
The bike turned over on the first kick and roared to life. While the smells of gas and oil filled my nose, more goosebumps covered my body. Billy fastened the helmet under his chin, put the bike into first gear and popped the clutch. The Honda took over like a bucking bronco.
As Billy picked up speed across our giant yard, he opened the throttle as wide as it would go and lay his abdomen on the gas tank—and then drove it straight into the woods.
Running in our father’s shadow, we quickly reached Billy—who was lying beneath the mini-bike. As my disgusted father pulled the bike off of him, I could see that my Neanderthal brother had damaged the bike so badly—its handlebars now twisted—that it could no longer be ridden.
“Well, that’s that for now,” the old man said, pushing our destroyed Christmas present back to the shed.
Randy and I looked at each other again and shook our heads. We both knew it would be months before the old man got the bike fixed; months before we had our turn to ride it. I looked at Billy and yelled, “Mangler!”
Billy shrugged. “Best ride ever,” he whispered, doing all he could to beat back a smile.
Looking back, I now recall that day as one of the best Christmas’ ever.
Steven Manchester is the author of three #1 bestsellers. His most recent title, critically acclaimed Gooseberry Island, is available now. His latest, The Changing Season, arrives Spring 2016. Please visit his website for more.