May 21, 2012
Tonight was my first speech at Toastmasters — the Ice Breaker speech. I was so nervous I nearly cried and spoke too fast at the beginning, but that’s why I’m going to Toastmasters, to settle these ridiculous butterflies. The topic for the Ice Breaker speech is me, something about my life. It’s a fun tale, so I thought I’d share it with you. Enjoy!
Let me tell you a story about how a bicycle named Steve taught me that looks aren’t everything.
Most Saturday mornings when I was 7 years old, I would hop into the front seat of my dad’s Ford station wagon (complete with wood panelling on both the inside and out) and the two of us would drive into town to visit the local hardware stores. I joined him reluctantly but there was often a candy treat offered at some point in the journey; as a candy addict, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
On one particular Saturday we found ourselves at Canadian Tire. This is before Crappy Tire sold small kitchen appliances and gardening supplies by the container-ship load. Back then it was mainly car stuff, tools, and — thankfully — recreational items.
Lollipop twisting in my mouth, I wandered over to the bicycle section where my size-3 shoes stopped in their tracks: Before me was the most beautiful thing I had every seen. It was a Strawberry Shortcake bicycle with all the trimmings. She had a picture of a smiling Strawberry Shortcake on the pedal crank, pink wheels, a banana seat big enough to “double” one’s best friend around the neighbourhood, tassels on the handle bars and little pink flag the cherry — or strawberry, rather — on top.
It should be noted that by the age of 7 I had been mistaken for a boy no fewer than a dozen times. It didn’t help that I dressed in my brother’s hand-me-down brown pants, I had short hair, and I wore brown plastic glasses so big you could see my ear magnified through the lens.
In my mind, the Strawberry Shortcake bike would set the record straight. People would see me ride by on my pink and white bike and they’d know I was a girl. (Either that or they’d say, “What’s that little dude doing riding a Strawberry Shortcake bike?”)
That day I went home and told my parents I wanted a Strawberry Shortcake bike for my birthday. I hinted, I convinced, I begged. On June 2, 1982, I woke to find my mom making pancakes in the kitchen. “Happy Birthday sweetheart,” she said. After breakfast, she said, “Your father has a surprise for you in the backyard. Want to go see it?” Absolutely. Let’s get this done.
I bounded down our back stairs ahead of my mom and once again my size-3 shoes stopped in their tracks — only this time, I was confused. My dad was polishing a bicycle but it wasn’t pink and white. In fact, it was the opposite: it was brown. There were no tassels on the handle bars, the wheels were black, there was no flag. There was a banana seat: It white with big green flowers on it, not unlike a linoleum floor pattern.
But that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it I noticed after my mom explained how my dad had refurbished this second-hand bike for my birthday present. The worst of it was that it was a boys bike. You know how a boy’s bike has the crossbar, but a girls bike doesn’t? This one had the crossbar. And as I looked closer, inscribed on the crossbar was the name Steve.
I cried then. I tried not to, I really did. I felt terrible that my dad went to this great effort to make me a bike, bought a new banana seat and everything and all I could do was cry. But, whether it was out of guilt, or necessity — I had no other wheels — I got on the bike and rode it. I rode 10 blocks to my friend Sheri’s house. I knocked on Sheri’s door and asked if she could come out to play. Sure thing friend, she said. She and I hopped on the banana seat together and rode away — in glee.
That bike was so much fun and for that whole summer we rode double around our neighbourhood: To the parks, to other friends’ houses, and, of course, the candy store. I never got over the fact that it had a crossbar, but apart from that, Steve was our ticket to freedom — especially because he wasn’t precious.