It was my mom who got me into motorcycling.
Yeah, that surprised me too. I had been pleading for a minibike for some two years — an eternity to a 13-year-old with ADD — with all the resolve, like any 13-year-old chasing their dream, of a Trudeau seeking re-election. It didn’t look to be going very well. My father hated motorcycles – absolutely hated ’em – refusing to even acknowledge my plaintive “I wanna minibike.” My mother… well, like all mothers of a now long bygone era, just said, “Go ask your father.” In other words, I wasn’t getting a minibike.
Until, well, I did. I remember it well. Somehow the bike had been wheeled into the downstairs living room and put near – not under; it was a small house – the Christmas tree. I knew what it was right away, given its little 10-inch wheels sticking out beneath reindeer wrapping and its high mount “scrambler” exhaust clearly visible under Christmas decorations. It was a Candy Gold CT70 – Honda’s, and therefore the industry’s – predominant minibike. Seventy-two cubic centimetres of salvation and skinned knees.
It was quickly apparent who was to thank for this sudden blessing. My dad made it very clear, as I began the bike’s undressing, that his optic nerves were offended by the mere appearance of a motorized two-wheeler. Or as he put it, in a tone that usually preceded corporal punishment: “I don’t want to ever see that friggin’ thing!”
Nor, if you knew my father – imagine Sgt. Rock, only with general’s bars on a faux military jacket – this was far from just a figure of speech. He really didn’t want to lay eyes on it. So, as soon as it was unwrapped, Mom and I squeezed it into the understairs cubby that normally held our firewood and covered it with enough blankets that not only was it hidden from “prying” eyes, its general shape was indistinguishable from, well, a pile of firewood. He really did hate motorcycles that much.
No surprise then that when I came to actually ride the blessed apparition – “I wanna motorcycle” having now, of course, been replaced with “I wanna ride my motorcycle” –Mom was the one who expedited the process. Quite how the two of us loaded 72 kilograms of Honda freedom machine into the trunk of a 1964 Chevy Biscayne – I don’t know how Mom managed to wheedle $350 out of Dad’s pocket for the Trail 70, but sure as shootin’ we weren’t getting a bike trailer – but come mid-February, I was riding through the snowdrifts of nearby Lac Daigle.
My mother was part of pretty much every major motorcycle event in my early biking life. When, at 15, I decided that I was going to become a motorcycle journalist – of which there were about three at the time in all of Canada – it was she who admonished me to get an engineering degree first… “just in case.” That bachelor of mechanical engineering got me my first job at Cycle Canada because they needed a technical editor.
Mom didn’t bat an eyelash when halfway through that third year I “took a year off to find myself” – which is bike-speak for saving enough money to buy a 1978 Suzuki GS1000. Three years later, she fronted me “first and last” so that I could ride that same GS to Toronto to take that aforementioned Cycle Canada job. And four months after that, she saved said newfound dream job by lending me enough money for the industry’s first word-processing computer – Radio Shack’s “Trash 80” TRS-80 – when it became painfully obvious that engineering school wasn’t much preparation for being able to type 80 words a minute without spelling errors. Like I said, Mom was there the whole way.
Until – I’m guessing, by now, you all know where this is going – just recently. Norma Patricia Jeanne Booth née O’Brien passed away this past January 19th. She was 86 years old.
My mother was the bedrock of our family, the accountant, the peacekeeper and, occasionally, when either my father or I were out of line – think: apples falling from trees here for how tense that relationship could get – a damned strict boss. She was loved beyond measure – in her last eight years in a nursing home, she never went a single day without someone visiting – she was respected in her work, welcomed in all the social arenas she chose to join and both travelled and lived beyond her humble beginnings. However, more satisfying to her, I suspect, was that she also saw her children – let’s pretend there has been some measure of success on these pages – reach even further. She was – not a single word of exaggeration – the reason I have been lucky enough to call myself a motojournalist these past 35 years.
And, as far as I know, she never ever once sat on a motorcycle.