Sunday, March 8, 2009

BUCKHEAD RIDGE, Fla. (AP) | What do you get an 84-year-old woman for her birthday? That’s what Carol Brown was thinking a few weeks ago. Her mother, June Pearce, was turning 84. The idea of buying and giving more stuff just didn’t appeal to Mrs. Brown.

“When you’re 84, what is there?” she thought.

Mrs. Pearce lives in a slow-paced retirement area near Lake Okeechobee in rural Florida. She’s been married to the same man, Fred, for 64 years. She’s had a few strokes, which robbed her of short-term memories. Lung cancer has claimed much of her strength. But one memory has stuck with her - riding on the back of a boy’s motorcycle in the 1930s.

“I wasn’t scared at all,” Mrs. Pearce recalled. It was exciting, possibly one of the most thrilling moments of her life. She remembered sliding off the bike and scraping her leg, but loving it just the same. She told this story so many times that Mrs. Brown can recite it by heart.

Mrs. Brown thought of that story as she racked her brain, wondering what to do about the birthday. Then she had an idea.

“Come Give Granny A Ride On Your Hog,” she typed into an ad on Craigslist.

In the Internet posting, Mrs. Brown asked whether anyone would be willing to give Mrs. Pearce a ride for her 84th birthday. She got one response, from a man named Ron Borowski. He said he’d ride his Harley-Davidson Low Rider - electric blue, with dark blue flames and a chrome kickstand shaped like a skeleton’s foot - from his house in Palm Beach County to the Pearces’ home, about 65 miles away.

“My mom passed away from cancer, so the ad touched me,” said Mr. Borowski, 45. “I just figured it would be an adventure.”

Mrs. Brown wasn’t sure how her mother would react if a strange person showed up in the driveway with a Harley, so she told her the day before, and Mrs. Pearce spent the day calling everyone she knew to tell them about it.

Mrs. Brown’s two grown daughters also showed up to celebrate. After all, it might be Mrs. Pearce’s last birthday, since a doctor told her in September that there was nothing more they could do for her cancer.

Just before 4 p.m. Friday, Mr. Borowski thundered into the driveway. “I’m your chauffeur today,” Mr. Borowski said, grinning and taking off his helmet.

Mrs. Pearce’s eyes widened. She made her way slowly toward the bike and touched the seat. But when Mr. Borowski asked Mrs. Pearce whether she wanted to take a ride, the elderly woman shook her head - how on earth would she ever get on the bike? “No way,” she said firmly.

Mr. Borowski, Mrs. Brown and the granddaughters said they’d help her on. Mrs. Pearce ran her hands on the black leather and, with a bit more coaxing, sat on the bike near the tank. She allowed her leg to be swung over the seat and then Mr. Borowski gently lifted her onto the back.

“I wish I was a lot younger,” Mrs. Pearce said, adjusting her helmet.

“Hold on tight,” he said, and started the engine. The bike was so loud that the grass near the driveway vibrated. Mrs. Brown felt her heart thumping loudly out of excitement - and a bit of fear that her mother would fall off.

Mrs. Pearce wrapped her arms around Mr. Borowski and he took off, slowly. They went around the block twice, past the retirees watering their lawns, past the pastel-colored mobile homes - and Mrs. Pearce wore a tiny smile as they rumbled back into the driveway.

“What we’re giving today is a memory,” Mrs. Brown said. “She’s not going to get rid of it in a garage sale, break it or throw it away. Memories are the best gifts, I think.”

Mr. Pearce watched from a few feet away, tears in his eyes; for the past three years, he’s been caring for his wife through her chemotherapy and radiation.

“I’ve been lucky to keep her alive,” he said softly. “I hope this gives her another six months.”

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