The little one was still off at camp when I eased up to the house in our rusty Ford half-ton, a pair of stubby handlebars barely visible over the side of the bed. Our neighbor Tony sidled up and grinned big.
Tony helped me unload the little blue missile, asked if we had gear for the sprout, then promptly proposed a training mission to his mom's three acres outside Stanwood. We were still grinning like idiots when Pretty Wife came outside. Her eyes lit up.
"Oh, that's much cooler than I thought!"
"It kinda is, idnit?"
We couldn't help ourselves, taking a few laps up and down our quiet street, butter-knifing the air with the murmur of a very polite chainsaw. It turns out that a used Yamaha PW80 cheerfully hangs respectable wheelies with a full-sized American male aboard, despite having no clutch to pop.
The neighbor kids ran out in the street to stare. Little Emily from over the road immediately decided, "My daddy's gonna get me one o' those." Four more blasts up and down the street and we shut 'er down to leave a little oil in the reservoir for its intended recipient. Pretty Wife shot me a stern look.
"So we're agreed," she said, "we don't tell her until her birthday?"
Joy's birthday is in November, the cruelest month.
"Ah, sweetie, c'mon. Look at the weather!"
Pretty Wife had not run out of looks. She speared Tony with one.
"Are you in on this?"
He scuffed one sandal toe in the driveway like an embarrassed middle-schooler.
"Well," he said, "it is summer."
"You guys are terrible!"
The ayes had it.
One week later, on a sunny afternoon in late August, our seven-year-old soberly accepted a handwritten note initiating a multi-point sprint all around the neighborhood and finally down to the mailbox to find a clue reading, "Silly girl! Go ask Tony. Maybe he knows..."
Tony stocks him some Hondas, not one or two but fully a few. Nosing around his Interceptors and XLs, our sprout finally stumbled upon the covered mini. She looked up, sparkling from teeth and eyes.
"I knew it!"
Seven-year-olds actually can jump into their gear. It's something to see. Every time I walk out to my bike, I find her already suited up and tapping her foot by the back seat, impatient and excited and grinning.
This was different. Our daughter-the kid who nonchalantly hops off her moving bicycle, shucks her shoes and is in the kitchen eating a snack by the time it falls over-sat on that little Yamaha with a deadly intent look, listening and absorbing. Chunking it into first gear, Joy hesitantly cracked the throttle and off she plonked with me trotting alongside, gripping a fistful of her leather jacket like a briefcase handle.
We made a few tentative runs up and down in front of the house. Her blue eyes never lost their gunfighter glint, but a little smile grew behind her chin guard as she smoothed out her stops. Pretty soon she was braking for corners, throwing a boot out on the inside and gassing it around the bend, and I couldn't keep up anymore.
Limping off to stop and pant with my hands on my knees, I watched her putt-putting away from me on her little Yamaha. Two weeks ahead of second grade, she was already charting her own course.
That's what Lewis daughters do. One state south, her big sister pilots a vintage Honda Hawk to classes at an urban college-in between organizing political actions, holding two jobs and tuning up a social network that would give a White House protocol chief the vapors.
All a dad can do is watch and smile, dream and remember and hope. Their job is to leave me behind. Who would have imagined they'd be so good at it? As Louie Armstrong sang, "They'll learn much more, than I'll ever know."
What a wonderful world, indeed.