You Can Have One If You Make It

Last week I was visiting my oldest son and he left the room to take a telephone call. When he came back he seemed upset, and then brought himself together and said to me, “There’s only one way to say this. Bob Brent died last night.”

Bob was my husband for 24 years, and together we devoted our lives to helping raise my four kids and his two.

When I wrote the condolence letter to his widow it set me to thinking how great his influence was on my three sons and daughter.


When we first married we agreed that in dealing with the children we would always present a united front. We would always back each other up, and never let the kids play one of us against another. In all those years only one time did I feel he betrayed me.

The betrayal had to do with the subject of motorcycles. The kids all had bicycles, and rode through the streets of Santa Monica from the time they were eight, but when it came time for motorcycles—in those days and that place the age was eighteen—I didn’t want to live in fear of getting a phone call that one of them had been creamed. I made the statement that there were to be no motorcycles until they were adult and on their own.

When son Carl was seventeen he announced he wanted a motorcycle. Bob, instead of backing up my assertion of “no motorcycles,” instead said, “You can have one if you make it.”

I let that pass. The idea of Carl building a motorcycle was too preposterous for me to take it seriously.

A few days later Carl walked into the house carrying two ten-foot lengths of square steel tubing on his shoulder. “What’s that?” I asked. “My motorcycle,” he answered.

The next day he was drawing on a piece of vellum that he was holding against the dining room window pane. “What’s that?” I asked. “My motorcycle.” he answered. Sure enough he had drawn a motorcycle on one side of the vellum, and was holding the paper against the lighted window in order to draw the other side of the motorcycle on the other side.

To this day I do not know how he got the steel cut and bent to his design, nor where he got the motor or tires, but within a few weeks there was the motorcycle. My memory is that it was less than three feet tall, about four feet long and four inches wide. It worked.

Carl on his self-made motorcycle. Yes, Freedom!
Carl on his self-made motorcycle. Yes, Freedom!

Says Bob, “You can’t ride it on the streets unless you have a license.” So on his eighteenth birthday he went to the DMV and applied for a license. The authorities examined it closely and issued him a license plate. The license plate was five inches wide—wider than the bike, so he wired it on vertically.

From that day he rode the streets of Santa Monica on his motorcycle. He said every policeman in Santa Monica stopped him—not because he was disobeying any law, but because they wanted to examine the cycle.

He rode it frequently in Santa Monica, and then took it to San Luis Obispo where he was going to school at Cal Poly. At that point he did get a regular sized motorcycle, and although we said, “No riding it on the freeways, and no riding with someone on the back,” when we went to visit in April for Poly Royal he took his sister on the back to get to the dance, and we knew from his stories he had been riding on the freeways. Oh, well. Somewhere along the line you have to give up expecting the kids to obey you.

It is now thirty-seven years later. Carl races motorcycles to this day. He has taken his son motorcycle racing since he was four. There are seven motorcycles in his garage—the automobiles stay out in the weather.

Carl is dyslexic. His reading ability and spelling were at elementary school level, but he was as creative about getting through college as he was about getting a motorcycle. He is also creative about his working conditions and is making enough money in engineering that I’m embarrassed to name the sum.

In retrospect, I see that Bob’s one betrayal of our agreement was the good thing to do for Carl.

Thank you, Bob.


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