The December riding calendar is fairly well dominated by Toy Runs, at least in my neck of the woods, and it probably is in your area, too. Actually, they started here around mid-October and are scheduled through the fall. Except for one grand niece and two grand nephews, all of the kids in this extended family are grown into young adulthood. That being the case, we would rarely see the inside of a toy store if not for the annual rite of Toy Runs.
A toy store can keep you young at heart—if you can find a real one these days instead of a big-box retailer—by reconnecting you with your inner child and rekindling memories of your youth. Do you remember the excitement of childhood Christmas morning? Remember the thrill and accomplishment of saving your allowance to buy a prized toy? I sure hope you do. Every so often I get a memory rush like that when I go in to my contemporary toy box, my garage. Funny how I still keep stashed the wooden toy chest my dad made. Recently the sight of the motorcycles and antique cars in the garage brought me back to the memory of saving up my allowance to buy a matchbox car many long years ago. They were all of fifty cents then and made of die-cast metal in England—try finding a toy bike or car made anywhere but China today. Yet even though today’s toys are imported plastic, they still have the same powerful effect of instilling joy into the hearts of children.
Isn’t that what Toy Runs are all about? Instilling joy in the hearts of less-fortunate children during this the season of lights and joy? That is perhaps the purest of motivations, simply for love and compassion. Not being naïve, I am fully aware that some folks do the Toy Run thing for the politics of good public relations for our lifestyle, and that’s not a bad thing; it is a savvy response to the often-unwarranted bad PR that we get just for being different. Then, of course, there are folks who are just out for the riding opportunity and don’t “get it.” You can’t blame them, but I recently had an encounter that reminded me of what it means to “get it.”
Yesterday I saw an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in a while; she had returned to her job after a long leave of absence. She filled me in on recent events in her life, which among other things included marriage, the new bike her new husband bought, a fall, and the sale of her bike while she recovers from a broken pelvis. In short order our chat naturally turned to riding, as it often does, and to Toy Runs. It was in the discussion of the packed schedule of Toy Runs in the Western North Carolina (WNC) region that she shared some sad news. Part of her absence was due to an illness that resulted in a hysterectomy: in her late twenties, recently married, and not able to have children. It broke my heart, but not hers. While some would be embittered or awash in self-pity, this lady was filled with love and joy. Even being unable to bring her own into the world has done nothing to dampen her love of children. In fact, I believe it has just refocused and amplified it. She and her husband will be taking part in every Toy Run in the seven-county WNC region, and they will not be bringing the minimum, ten-dollar donation or equivalent-value toy, either. She and her husband will be instilling a lot of joy in some little hearts this year. Perhaps a child who has lost its mother will receive the gift of love from a mother without a child. Yes, the Lord works in mysterious ways.
While some might look at Toy Runs as just another biker-PR effort, they are missing the hidden reality, the true point. It is not about the bikes or the toys or the ride. It is rather about the gathering of people together to help improve the lives of others. Best said by that old cliché: It is better to give than receive.
On a cold and frosty morning several years ago, Mary and I attended our first Toy Run of that season. It was a small, first-year event hosted by the Weaverville, NC, PD and some local businesses. Although it was new, they were very successful, having more than double the number of riders expected. By all estimations, this event looked like it would become a regular addition to our local riding calendar, which it has. Afterwards we headed over to Mary’s folks house to do some fall cleanup work. Since Memaw and Pop were in their late ’70s, we tried to help with the chores that are too labor intensive for folks their age. By evening time we had spent an entire fall day outdoors, from riding in nippy temperatures in the a.m. to power washing in the warm afternoon, and when talk rolled around of dinner, I knew that a warm meal would have me dozing in no time flat. We opted to pick something up on the way home—that way we could eat and crash on the sofa in front of the fireplace instead of crash and burn on the road while riding home.
When I am feeling cold and tired after a fall or winter day outdoors, hot soup always removes the chill from my bones, and that was definitely a soup day! On that particular day I had a yen for Chinese food, vegetarian hot-and-sour soup with my special habanero sauce added at home. Our favorite Chinese place was on the way, so we called in an order for pickup. When we arrived at the restaurant, we discovered that the whole town had a similar idea—while most tables were empty, the place was hopping with take-out and delivery business. While I waited for our order, I noticed that one of the delivery guys was wearing a bright red Ride for Kids jacket.
Since he was waiting on the kitchen, too, he offered to run my ticket so I could get out quicker. I took the opportunity to strike up a conversation by asking if he rode in the local Ride for Kids. His response was no, but he sure wished he could. He went on to tell me that his daughter had been one of the recipients of the Ride for Kids. We spoke for a good while, or I should say he spoke and I listened. He told me of his daughter, who had succumbed to her cancer. He spoke of her infectious bravery and positive spirit in the face of such a grave illness, and how she always knew when he needed words of encouragement. His little angel knew she was going to die, but was not afraid; she had a faith in God that was strong. He told me how the work done by motorcycle riders through the Ride for Kids had been an incredible gift to their family during this difficult journey. He told me how she loved the bikers and was so enthusiastic about riding in the event and spending time with them. He told me how in her last months he was able to spend most of his time with her—his boss let him work one day a week to keep insurance coverage and the Ride for Kids helped support the family. He was so thankful for the blessing that his family had received from the efforts of that motorcyclist-driven charity. I had a hard time not crying as I witnessed his love for his lost child and his love for the folks who helped them in their time of need.
I have volunteered for several different charities that the motorcycling community supports, and have met some of the families and children whom we work to help, yet this was one of the most moving encounters I have had. What made it so special was that it was so random, like life itself. It caught me off guard; often, we tend to steel ourselves at events, protecting ourselves from directly sharing the pain so we can do the work of supporting the search for a cure. While the cure was not in time for this little girl and her family, they were nonetheless helped greatly by people like you. In this season of joy, giving, and celebration, think for a moment of the Christmas Carol and how the sight of Tiny Tim’s empty chair and crutch moved Scrooge to mend his ways. Thankfully, bikers don’t need the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come to show them why it is so important to help others in need. It makes me proud to be a biker since we know: ‘Tis the Season to give—All Year Long. Bless you one and all for everything you do to help those less fortunate!
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