When I was a child, automobiles were a rare sight in my little town in Northern Italy, but bicycles were everywhere. We rode our bikes to school, to work, to the movies. We biked or we walked. My grandfather, an avid hunter, even walked to his hunting grounds in the mountains.
My great-uncle, my grandfather’s brother, convinced him they should split the cost and buy a motorcycle, a used, reliable motorcycle.
The wives weren’t too keen on the idea. The sly husbands asked some friends of theirs to come for a visit, a young married couple who arrived on a motorcycle. The ploy worked. The younger couple convinced my great aunt and my grandmother such transportation could be a pleasure and a blessing. To understand this, you need to close your eyes and picture my grandmother and great aunt, their grey hair in long braids twisted into buns on top of their heads. Two women who never owned a pair of trousers, they always carried rosaries in their purses. Yet, somehow they were convinced.
With their wives’ blessings, my grandfather and my great uncle set out to find an affordable motorcycle. They stored it in what had originally been a barn, converted to a large, clean storage place.
Uncle had a friend who taught him to ride. The bike was big. At least it looked that way because I was only five years old. The plan was for Uncle to learn first then teach his brother.
After a few lessons, Uncle decided he was ready to show the family how great this metal steed could be. We lined up outside and my great uncle brought out the shiny motorcycle. When he started the engine we put our hands over our ears.
My cousin and I giggled and jumped with excitement. The grown-ups took turns sitting behind Uncle then taking short rides with him. My grandfather took a ride. So did my grandmother.
Uncle motioned to us. “Come on, girls. Get on. Let’s go for a ride.”
We were scared but excited. It took my great aunt bribing us with cookies before my cousin and I climbed aboard. Of course my grandmother made sure our ruffled dresses properly covered our chubby little legs. I was squeezed between my uncle and my little cousin. The rumbling of the engine had us shaking, but when the spin was over we clapped our hands and asked for more.
The next week my uncle, now a self-declared expert rider, started teaching my grandfather. One Sunday the family gathered at a relative’s house. My grandfather and grandmother planned to come later on the motorcycle.
The day went on, but my grandparents never showed up. There were no phones to call them, and some grew worried. By three in the afternoon, we all went home but Nonna and Nonno weren’t there either.
It was later around four-thirty they came walking home. My grandma kept mumbling to herself and looked as mad as hell. My grandpa looked beat, flustered and somehow apologetic.
We found out later, they left on the motorcycle dressed in their Sunday best to head to our relatives’ place. It wasn’t long before Grandpa realized he never learned how to stop the motorbike. Rather than admit it to my grandma, he just kept on going.
“It’s such a nice, sunny day, let me show you around a little.”
It didn’t take long for grandma to figure out what the story was. After an hour or so of aimless riding, she was so mad, tired and thirsty, she kept pummeling Grandpa’s back. They drove around until they ran out of gas. My grandpa pushed the bike to a friend’s house, and they walked home. Grandpa never touched the motorcycle again.