Motor Mouth recounts an all-time-favourite gift,
A Honda CT 70 was the gift that changed my life
It may have been that chemistry set. You know, the one with potassium nitrate (an essential component of gunpowder, donchaknow) and a magnifying glass to burn ants with. It could have been a simple Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, the one that launched a life-long obsession with hockey (and, well, losing). Or maybe it was that set of chromed, cap-firing six shooters at the age of three that forever fixated the concept of “bafellas and goofellas” (bad fellows and good fellows, for those of you who, like my confused parents, couldn’t figure out what the h-e-double-hockeysticks I was talking about while vigorously pointing at John Wayne) as central to your personal code of conduct (yup, the Duke as moral compass). We may not remember how it was wrapped, what year it appeared under our tree or even who was the Santa surrogate who proffered the magical prize. But I think it’s safe to say that we all have a favourite Christmas gift that we cherish above all others. And small or large, they probably changed our lives forever.
Mine was a gold-liveried 1972 Honda CT 70 that I remember as vividly as if I were still 15 years old. I had been clamouring for a minibike since the age of 12, when I was seconded into occasionally caring for the daughters of the local Honda concessionaire. And since I suffered what today would be diagnosed as ADHD (with an emphasis, as my poor old parents oft lamented, on the hyperactive), I gave my dear old mater and pater not a second of rest. It was “motorcycle this” and “minibike that” until they finally, three years later, broke down.
Or, to be more specific, my mother broke down. My dad, whether it be long-term fiscal concerns (most probable) or disquiet about his only son’s safety (less probable), refused to even acknowledge said travesty in his home. That’s why, on that fateful Christmas morn, armed with the suspicion that they, or at least someone, had finally given in to my constant entreaties, I was mightily disappointed to find nothing two-wheeled under the Booth Christmas tree.
There was, however, after the initial crushing disappointment faded into a thorough search of the grounds, a suspiciously large object covered in an old blanket tucked away in the recesses of our basement. This, then, was my dad’s compromise: “The little-pain-in-the-you-know-what could have his damned minibike as long a I don’t have to see it and I can pretend it doesn’t exist.” Indeed, my precious little Honda spent the first two-and-a-half months of its ownership tucked away in our potato pantry swathed in multiple coverings just so my dad could, at least consciously, deny its existence.
That’s also why it was my mother who, either through love or a complete denial of the injuries motorized two-wheeled transport could inflict on young bones, was the one who transported me to an abandoned runway in the middle of a Sept-Iles-ean winter (because I could no longer wait for spring; again with that hyperactivity thing). Let loose on snow and ice, protected by nothing more than my snow suit, a gaudy lime-green $20 Canadian Tire helmet and motherly love (her only admonishment on watching me ride was to not “lean it so much” in turns, physics never having been momsy’s strong suit), I somehow crashed my way to some semblance of twowheeled competence.
It was only the beginning of an endless summer of Huckleberry Finn adventure. My first “big boy” camping trip was a three-day sojourn to nearby Lac Rapide with my neighbour (and fellow minibiker) Ned Mcgee. We rode for as long as the sun shone, didn’t have to sneak our cigarettes because nobody was looking and, in what I think was the closest we came to full Mark Twainish rebellion, tried to hot wire what seemed like a 20-kiloton bulldozer (I will continue to remain mute on the outcome of said adventure, just in case the statute of limitations has not run out on errant deforestation as the result of not yet knowing how to drive something with four wheels).
And when I finally became old enough to legally drive, my little Honda was enough to make me a minor big man about town with his own wheels (parents automatically giving their offspring cars for their 16th birthday not yet being part of the parental guidebook). The little Honda’s half-gallon gas tank was sufficient for about 70 miles, almost enough for a full week’s meandering around town (Sept-Iles, Que., you can take it, was a small burg). At the time, gas cost 53 cents. Let me save you the effort of reaching for your calculator: It often cost me as little as a quarter to ride around for a week.
The little Honda also proved to be a gift that kept on giving. My younger sister also learned to ride the slightly-less-gleaming Honda. So did numerous cousins. We ran out of relatives wanting to learn to ride motorcycles before the little Trail 70 ran out of steam. I think it was donated to a needy family with an equally hyperactive child. I suspect the little Honda may still be chugging along today, as long as all its subsequent owners remembered to change its oil every two years or so.
And it is still giving to this day. Without that diminutive little Honda, who knows what kind of “respectable” job I might have ended up with. I could have ended up a chartered accountant, a shoe salesman or even, God forbid, an engineer.
For that I am eternally grateful.