Thinking back on my Amma, West Virginia, days has been bittersweet. I miss my dad, Ross Carper, and all that he was. He was such a good father and a sweet, kind, and humble man. He was a hard worker for Columbia Gas, as well as at home.
Dad provided well for our needs. He also bought us little extras, and that brings me to the memories of my bicycle.
Having grown up with four brothers, I always got my three older brother’s hand-me-down bicycles. The bicycles were always too big for me. I had to be creative to get on and off of them. The handlebars were too high and the bar in the center was always a problem. My little brother Tim had a new tricycle, and I enjoyed pushing him on it.
Howard Carper, our neighbor, said, “A girl should be riding a pink bike, not a blue bike!” I’m sure he thought the boy’s bike was too big as well, as he watched me struggle with it. I learned how to pull one leg over to the other side and lean the bike to slow it down, then jump off. I became pretty good at it, too.
So, I shared Howard’s thoughts with Dad during supper one evening. I asked Dad for a pink bicycle. I was hoping the pressure of hearing that it was Howard’s strong opinion that a girl should be riding a pink bicycle and not a blue one would surely persuade my dad to say yes.
He said no. But he added, “When you outgrow the boy’s bike, we will get you a pink bicycle.” My goodness . . . the blue bike was huge! I didn’t see me ever outgrowing it.
So, when Dad went to work the next morning and mom was in the kitchen canning, I set my plan into action. I took my blue bicycle behind Dad’s outbuilding.
I leaned the bicycle against the building and hid it there. Then I went through Mom and Dad’s paint cans they kept under his work bench. There, surprisingly, was no pink paint. The closest thing to pink was “barn red.” Oil-based at that. I climbed upon Dad’s work bench and got his largest paint brush because I thought that would make the paint project go faster. I took a flat head screwdriver out of his toolbox and removed the lid. I had seen mom do this before.
I peeked through the door to make sure mom was nowhere around. I carried the paint can out back to my bicycle behind the outbuilding. I dipped the paint brush in the can, sideways. It was too big to dip it straight down into the can. It didn’t paint a color because the oil was on top. So, I got a stick and stirred the paint. It started turning a brownish-red. Voila! I was in business. The paint didn’t adhere to the blue bicycle at all. All it did was make brown streaks in the blue. No matter how hard I tried, it just wouldn’t turn pink. So, I carried the can back inside the building, put the lid back on the can, and hid the evidence behind the paint can stack. I tossed the brush, full of barn red paint, into the trash barrel. I knew I was in big trouble.
So, I waited for Dad to get home from work. As I heard the unmistakable sound of his company truck coming up the Little Left Hand Road, I ran to meet him at his truck door. I took his hand and said, “I need to show you something.” When I was in trouble, I knew my chances not to get a whoopin’ were better with Dad than they were with Mom. As we approached the outbuilding, I braced myself as I showed him what I had done. He laughed! I didn’t get a whoopin’ at all! Instead, he said, “Sis, let’s go get your pink bike this weekend when we go to town.” That was a good day. He also added, “It would be best if we don’t let mom know about this paint project.”
Dad set his lunch pail on the picnic table. He retrieved the hidden evidence out of the trash barrel. He smiled while he showed me how to clean the large brush with paint thinner. He cleaned me up with paint thinner as well. I suspect there was more paint on me than on the bike.
We went in the back door of our home to clean up some more. Mom had supper waiting on the stove. She was none the wiser of my bicycle painting escapade, as Dad kept my secret for me. Mom never questioned why Dad and I smelled strongly of paint thinner and we certainly didn’t volunteer any explanation. I believe her mind was preoccupied with her new canned goods she proudly displayed on the kitchen counter.
I could hardly wait until Saturday to go to town. We drove out Ripley Road to Western Auto and met with Kermit Carper and his very lovely wife, Ollie Mae.
Kermit had a nice selection of shiny new bicycles as we surveyed the showroom. Then I saw the one. It was pink . . . not blue. The bike was different than anything I had ever seen. It modeled a white banana seat, a white basket with colored daisies, and high-rise handlebars with streamers. It was “sold already, to another little girl,” but Kermit said he would order one for next weekend when we came back to town. No matter how hard I tried to convince Kermit to sell that one to my dad, he wouldn’t give in.
He ordered it as promised for the next weekend. We picked it up at the end of our town visit, after Mom and Dad’s Big Star grocery shopping. I remember my brother was mesmerized with all the new boy bicycles, but Dad said, “This time is just for Sis.”
When we got home to Amma from town that sunny Saturday, Dad unloaded my new pink bike out of the back of our station wagon. He adjusted my seat and handle bars, oiled the spark chain, and off I went as they finished carrying the groceries into the house.
I rode my new pink “girl’s bike” out to Howard and Annie’s and showed it off. They were quite impressed. I remember Howard rearing backwards and saying, “Horse, horse,” as he always did when he was excited about anything.
I rode it on up Little Left Hand Road to see Grandmother Carper. I was surely beaming with immense pride on my new pink bicycle. Best day ever. Best dad ever.
My brother says you can’t go back home. I say you sure can and I do in my memories.
The days of Amma were the very best. I am blessed to have had my dad as a father, and, of course, my mother. They were married 50 years in 1999. Dad passed away the following year on the first day of spring, his favorite day of the year.
I have two bicycles now and a scooter. I ride around the backroads of Parkersburg, West Virginia, and the neighborhood, just like I did on my pink bicycle. I reminisce of those glorious Amma days of my youth. I enjoying taking my pets along and taking photos for contests.
Those early days of bike riding at Amma was good training for the hobbies I enjoy today. You really can “go back,” for a little while.
Sharon Carper lives in Parkersburg, WV. She is originally from Amma in Roane County. She enjoys writing, photography, decorating, baking, and riding her scooter. She has three fur children, Lori-Olivia, Sam, and Annie. She is a licensed real estate agent in Parkersburg. Her award-winning photographs have appeared in The Parkersburg News and Sentinel, The Intermountain, etc. Her writings have appeared in The Charleston Gazette-Mail, and The Times Record/Roane County Reporter. She is the author of Alice and the Munchkins: A True Story of an Unlikely Friendship Between a Woman and a Wild Mother Racoon.
**All images in the body of this work are from Sharon Carper’s personal collection.
***Featured image: “Pink Bike 2” by RebeccaVC1, flickr