Daddy was getting his Harley ready for a ride. When I had arrived in Utah 5 months prior, the snow was 3 feet deep. This dry, sunny day was one of the first I had seen since I had moved in with my father and his wife Kathy. She walked into my room early in the morning and smiled.
"Do you want to ride with your Dad today?"
I nodded and giggled stupidly. Kathy was always very good to me and always encouraged my Daddy to spend time with me. She was selfless when it came to him and me, always thinking of what was best for us first, never herself. She dressed me in jeans, a t-shirt, her leather boots and riding jacket, and taught me how to tie her bandana on my head. She handed me gloves and sunglasses and told me not to giggle too much.
(Daddy and Kathy in Utah, circa 1978)
At the age of 13 that's mostly what I did. Giggle and cry. That's what girls do. My Daddy was incredibly tolerant of the giggling, but when I cried, he simply left the room, or the house. In the 7 years since my parents' divorce I had seen him rarely because of my mother's transient lifestyle. But my mother had finally found a man who wanted to be with her and that didn't include me, so she shipped me to my Daddy in Utah. It was one of the best times of my life.
I walked out to the driveway and he gave me some basics.
"Lean the way I lean, to the same degree I lean. Hold on, at all times. Don't wiggle or fidget. Pay attention to the road and to me. Be quiet around my friends."
"Yes Daddy," I replied, with an enormous smile.
"Tell me if you need something. Don't talk to anyone but me. Don't wander off when we stop. Remember to hold on, always. And have fun."
We rode for an hour or so and ended up at a friend's house. The yard, which wrapped around the house, was littered with bikes. I knew the rules about motorcycles already, having lived with my Dad from birth until the age of 5. Never touch anyone's motorcycle, ever. And if you're under the age of 20, keep at least 10 feet away from all of the motorcycles, just in case. I gingerly maneuvered my way into the house behind my Dad and found an huge gathering of bikers.
I sat quietly beside him as the drugs moved freely about the room. This wasn't new for me, so I knew how to behave. When the mirror was passed to me I said "thank you," and passed it on to my Daddy. I only spoke when spoken to and only to answer yes or no or thank you. I never said "No thank you," as that would be rude.
After an hour or so, everyone headed to the bikes. Approximately 25 bikes, all ridden by men and most of whom were riding solo, started nearly in unison. This was in the times of the kick-starters, so the sound of the cranking filled the air. My Daddy had broken his right ankle 8 years prior so he would stand beside the bike, kick with his left foot and accelerate with his right hand. He looked awkward, but he managed to get it done.
At 6-feet tall, 220 lbs, with a voice as deep as James Earl Jones, my father had a menacing presence about him. Scary Larry, as he was known to the others, treated him with the utmost respect. So much so that no one even questioned who I was and where his old lady was. He saw no need to introduce me, nor did I. These were his friends, real bikers, and to me, these were all Gods. I wasn't fit to lick their boots, never mind address them, speak to them, or look them in the eye. I knew my place and they knew theirs. I belonged to Scary Larry, so I was as safe as if I'd been surrounded by the Secret Service.
The ride was amazing. Hours and hours of the most beautiful landscape I'd ever seen. I held on to my Daddy with glee, exhilarated that I could simply hold on to the man I loved most and watch the world go by. I was in his hands, completely his, and I had him all to myself. It was him, me, the bike and the road. What more could I want? I had the whole world right there; everything I ever wanted. It was the best day of my life. This was my dream-come-true.
We stopped for an hour in a grove of Aspens to stretch and drink. I sipped water from the creek that ran along the grove and watched my Daddy with his friends. It seemed natural to me that they looked to him as a leader. When he walked to his bike, everyone else simply followed his cue, just like me.
In the late afternoon, as the rest of the group headed to a party, we split off and headed back towards home. We stopped for a restroom break at a rest stop along the highway. When I came back out of the restroom my Daddy had a look on his face I had never seen. He seemed stressed and in a hurry to leave. I feared I had made him unhappy so I held him tight until we got home. In my mind, to disappoint my Daddy would be the worst thing I could ever do.
We pulled in the driveway right at sunset and I was heartbroken to see the day end. He looked in my eyes, pulled off my bandana, and wiped my dirty face.
"You were a good girl today. But you always are, aren't you? You're my Darlin' Baby Girl."
Every time he called my that, Darlin' Baby Girl, my heart soared. The sound of his soft, deep voice saying my own precious nickname that he had given me at birth was the best sound in the world to me. Serenity filled me as I floated into the house.
Later in the evening, Kathy came in to my bedroom to see how the ride went. She had a familiar smirk on her face.
(Me and Daddy, circa 1970)
"At the rest stop some guy was talking to your Dad. I guess he had seen you get off of the bike and walk into the restroom. He told your Dad that you were 'a fine looking old lady.' Your Dad realized for the first time that other men saw you as a woman, not a girl. Your Dad hit the guy so hard that he was still lying unconscious when you two left the rest stop."
Kathy couldn't stop giggling as she told the story.
"Your Dad was so proud of you today. He's still sitting in our bedroom shaking his head. He just realized that you're a young lady today, not a little girl anymore."
I'll always be my Daddy's Darlin' Baby Girl.