Sweet Thunder

A reminder: This is Day Seven of The Seven Days of Pricklesmas Contest. Details here! Entries are due to me at karalareau@me.com by the end of the day tomorrow!

When I was a kid, my best friend Danielle and I seemed to have everything in common. We both loved the color pink. We both loved singing and dancing to our Donny and Marie albums. We both had crushes on Shaun Cassidy. We both liked riding our bikes up and down our street, which was a dead end, but was almost long enough to make up for it. Our bikes at the time were hand-me-downs, but we didn’t care. That is, until we caught a glimpse of Sweet Thunder.

Sweet Thunder was the name of the girls’ dirt bike introduced by Huffy in 1978. As the above photo confirms, this bike was every seven-year-old girl’s dream come true. It was cooler and tougher than the usual dippy girls’ bike (which invariably featured a banana seat and a white flowered basket between the handlebars and a tinkly bell), but it definitely wasn’t a boys’ bike, because it was PINK. Danielle and I hatched a grand plan for ourselves: we’d both ask for Sweet Thunder for Christmas, and then we’d both be able to ride our new bikes up and down our street together. We’d be like a two-member bike gang, the coolest of the cool. Eagerly, we wrote our letters to Santa, and placed Sweet Thunder at the top of our Christmas lists. And then, for the rest of the holiday season, we talked about almost nothing but the bike and how amazing it would be when we could ride it together.

I’ve talked about how hard it was for me to fall asleep on Christmas Eve, but I was particularly wide-eyed and excited that year. After all, it was just a few hours before I would have my very own bad-ass ride! How could I possibly sleep? When I finally did manage to doze off, it was with visions of Sweet Thunder dancing in my head. And then, some time after the prescribed Christmas Day wake-up time of 7am, my mother called to my sister and me from downstairs. Santa had paid us a visit. I threw on my robe and raced down the stairs, breathless and giddy. And what was waiting for me when I got there?

A blue bike with a banana seat and a white flowered basket between the handlebars.

I can’t fully articulate my reaction at that moment, but I know shock, confusion, disappointment, and several other negative emotions figured prominently. I was SO SURE that what I’d be seeing under the tree was Sweet Thunder, and this bike was the opposite of Sweet Thunder in just about every horrible way. To my seven-year-old mind, it just did not compute. I rubbed my eyes, as I thought I must be having a dream. Or my worst nightmare.

My mother must have noticed the look on my face at that point, because she took me aside and gently explained,

“We know you wanted the pink bike, honey. But I went to the store and took a look at it, and I didn’t like how it was made. Some of its parts were plastic. But this blue bike is sturdy, and will last a long time.”

I remember these words, and yet, they held no meaning for me at the time. I know now that my mother was only ever trying to do what was best for me, and the blue bike was, in her mind, of better quality. But at seven years old, what did I care about things being sturdy and lasting? In the Stages of Sweet Thunder Grief, I was still in the shock phase, and I remained there for the rest of the holiday…

…until the phone rang. It was Danielle, and she could barely contain herself.

“OhmygoshohmygoshIgotSweetThunderandit’ssocool,” she gushed. “Ican’twaitforustorideourbikestogether!”

What began as shock quickly transitioned into a mix of humiliation and envy. This was followed by a lingering bitterness, directed specifically at my mother, which I carried with me for too many years. The phrase “Sweet Thunder” took on a new significance for me — it represented all the things I thought I deserved that my life failed to deliver. (This was before I learned that no one, including me, is owed anything, even the pink bike of my dreams, or a sporty red car, or a life free of hardship.)

But my mom was right; the blue bike did have staying power. So much so that when my sister was old enough to ride a bike on her own, she inherited it. Ever-ingenious, she tricked it out with a dirt bike seat and dirt bike handlebars, turning it into the bad-ass ride it was meant to be. By that time, I had moved on to junior high and a host of other desires and issues (Jordache jeans, legwarmers, and puberty being just a few), and Danielle had her own interests, too.

As an epilogue to this epilogue, my sister surprised me with a very special gift when I turned thirty. She called Huffy and spoke to someone with access to their design archives, and explained the whole Sweet Thunder saga to them. They did some research and sent her a copy of a photo of the bike from the 1978 Huffy catalog, which my sister turned into my 30th birthday card, shown above. I keep it framed in my office, where it carries a new significance — I may not have received the bike of my seven-year-old dreams, but, as ever, I received exactly as much as I needed to get where I am today.

Tomorrow: A book-birthday celebration for Mr. Prickles, and a chance for you to enter (and WIN) the Seven Days of Pricklesmas contest!

8 thoughts on “Sweet Thunder

  1. Pingback: Workspace Wonderland « Kara LaReau

  2. I enjoyed this story very much with two of my daughters. I could not stop laughing because it reminded me of how much my best friend and I wanted this bike also. I wanted it so badly, and my mom told me my aunt would buy me one. I was so excited and happy for the two week waiting time. She called and told me to go to the train station so I could ride it home. When I got there I waited as each person came up and off the escalator. When my mom came up I was almost crazy with excitement, but oh my gosh, instead of my dream bike my aunt bought me his ugly banana seat Pink Lady bike with this stupid tall orange flag on the back of it! I just stood there without words and could feel the tears building up in my eyes. This isnt what I wanted, take it back please I thought, I don’t want to ride that. Well I was as you said angry about it, and over the years still remember wanting it sooo much. My daughter wants one now, and I scope EBay to see if I can find her one, at least she can enjoy what I could not. I do know they also came out with a blue snowflake one, my friends neighbor had one of those too. Thanks for the memories. Huffy should reconsider remaking these awesome bikes again, if not for us than our daughters. A. Pappas

    • Ann! Thank you for sharing your story — it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my Sweet Thunder-lust. 🙂 Years ago, my sister did end up finding a listing for one on eBay, but it turned out to be just a bunch of rusty parts. Hope you end up having better luck!!

      • So sorry to hear that, how aweful. Since this was last posted I happen to come across my dream pink huffy bike and have since bought it and now my 11 year old daughter rides it up and down the street with me walking behind her as she enjoys what I could not. She is sweet enough to often offer me a ride on it which I gladly do sometimes, just to enjoy what past girls did and I could not. Comfy seat, cool handlebars, pink joy indeed on wheels. So happy to have come across your article and thank you for writing me back to share your love of a bike neither one of us had, but even now can have the chance to have one, or share the joy with a daugher or family member young enough to know what the bike was to girls of our generation, Awesome!!!

  3. Your story made me laugh, it made me cry. This bike is MAGICAL. Somethings really stay with you always.
    I’m 48 and I just love it. I’m i crazy MAYBE but I remember the smell of the day how hard my heart was beating WOW WOW WOW it’s happening and then oh nooooooo!!!!!
    If possible could I have a copy of the greatest bike ever to be created. P.S. what an amazing sister you have.

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