With only donated bikes and bike parts, the incarcerated young men I work with get easily frustrated when painting and refurbishing bicycles doesn’t go well. Along with donating refurbished bikes to needy kids, the bike shop also does work for institutional staff, me included. I had gotten my hands on very small geared mountain bike that would be great for my grandson in a couple years.
‘Manny’ volunteered to do all the work needed to turn the very aged bike into a San Francisco 49er themed bike. For the first few months Manny would work infrequently, often distracted by gang talk or frustration of lack of parts or my comments of unacceptable craftsmanship. Then for reasons only known to Manny, one day he told me that because the bike was for my grandson, the bike was going to be perfect because that’s how it was supposed to be. From that day on Manny worked everyday, re-sanding and painting pieces sometimes 3 or 4 times before he was satisfied.
After about 4 months, the bike was done just days before the class gave me a surprise retirement party. During the party Manny and I had the opportunity to make small talk, something impossible to do during class with young felons.
He shared learning to count his blessings had earned him a new outlook a few months ago and parole just that morning. I shared how whenever I feel low, the mental picture of my grandson jumping up and down reminded me how blessed I am. I shared my grandson is only here because my daughter had survived leukemia and against the doctor’s prognosis of her ever bearing children, my grandson was born and now he has a sister too. Manny became very solemn, “Mr. Randle, my mom died of leukemia.” She had also gotten pregnant after treatment but the first baby didn’t survive, but he did as the second.
He told me even though he was only 5 years old, he remembers every detail of her last night. He remembered her insisting he sit with her while she sang to him. He sang the song for me. He remembered falling asleep in her lap and when waking in the morning, she had passed.
We discussed how could we have worked together a year without knowing each other’s story. We discussed how special a child’s bicycle will forever bond us long after we go our separate ways.
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