Wishes then and now

A few things in life defy imitation. One would be that first time you hear your baby's cry, another has to be falling in love, and a third would be mailing in your final mortgage payment (so I am told). And then there's this: The sensory overload that is spending an afternoon driving along a New England back road on a motorcycle.

Not flying down a twisting ribbon of tarmac like you've got a fire to attend, but cruising, easing along fast enough to stay ahead of traffic and slowly enough to enjoy the scenery.

And not just any afternoon, either. An October afternoon when the leaves are turning and it looks as if paintmaker Sherwin-Williams has cast a thousand gallons of his gaudiest reds, yellows, and oranges across the hills and valleys. A fall afternoon when the summer makes one last resurgence, a gift we call Indian Summer, and temperatures rise above 80 degrees F. after many mornings of waking to light frosts. One of those dry, crisp days that you know will be the last until half past April.

A distinct advantage of riding a motorcycle is that it allows the operator full use of all of the senses. Barbecued chicken from a country fair, the fresh pungency of a lawn's final cut, salty sea air, and wood smoke. Of course, dead skunks and landfills do provide a counterbalance, but that is not the picture I am trying to paint here. Only a handful of experiences compare with rumbling down a country road lined with fiery yellow maples, the smell of burning leaves and dropped apples wafting in the breeze. It is a nostalgic feeling, reminiscent of touch football, cider doughnuts, and going back to school.

It was just such a vision that inspired me to drop into a local motorcycle dealership with my son recently. The place was monstrous, with machines of every size and shape. Prices ranged from several thousand dollars to a little less than it had cost to build my first house. The accessory shop could have rivaled a small department store. I left with only a brochure. And even that was impressive.

So now the brochure, fat and glossy, sits on my coffee table within easy reach. I have already folded over the corner of the page where the motorcycle of my dreams resides. I've done everything but initial it and draw huge arrows pointing to the bike. It is not unlike the Sears Wish-Books we had as kids.

Those folks at Sears were no dummies, sending out the Christmas catalogs in August and September to ensure four full months of whining and cajoling. My motorcycle brochure will never resemble the Wish-Book: Its front half was filled with men's and women's fashions and a million styles of sheets and pillow cases. Its pages were absolutely pristine. But the back half of the catalog soon became a tattered no man's land of ripped pages and scribbles.

My two brothers and I would go so far as to tear out the pages of the most sought-after items, securing the bits and pieces under pillows. By Thanksgiving the front cover was gone, the last five pages as well, and the toy section looked as if it had been left out on the lawn since Labor Day.

The funny thing is, come Christmas Day, neither of us cared or could remember what we'd so carefully plotted to receive. The gifts that meant the most to us were the ones we least expected. I can remember lying awake one Christmas Eve, puzzled by a loud humming coming from the kitchen along with sudden shouts and laughter from my dad and his brother-in-law. It all made sense the next morning when I plugged in my new electric football game and the whole board vibrated loudly as the small plastic players moved about in wild circles.

So, maybe my Christmas wish list has grown from the Tonka Tow Truck to the Heritage Classic Softail, but here it is 35 years later, and a wish is still a wish.

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