BUCKHEAD RIDGE — What do you get an 84-year-old lady 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 Brown.
"When you're 84, what is there?" she thought.
Pearce lives in a slow-paced retirement area near Lake Okeechobee in rural Florida. She has been married to Fred for 64 years. She has had a few strokes, which have 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," Pearce remembers.
It was exciting, possibly one of the most thrilling moments of her life. Pearce remembered sliding off the bike and the pain of scraping her leg but loving it just the same. She told this story so many times that Brown can recite it by heart.
"It was during the Depression," Brown said. "Not a lot of excitement happened then."
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, Brown asked if anyone would be willing to ride out and give Pearce a ride for her 84th birthday. She got one response, from a man named Ron Borowski. He said he would 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 June and Fred Pearce's home, some 65 miles away.
"My mom passed away from cancer, so the ad touched me," said Borowski, 45. "I just figured it would be an adventure."
Brown wasn't sure how her mom would react if a strange person showed up in the driveway with a Harley. So Brown told her mom the day before, and June Pearce spent the day calling everyone she knew to tell them about it. Brown's two grown daughters also showed up to celebrate. After all, it might be June Pearce's last birthday, since a doctor told her in September there was nothing more they could do for her cancer.
Friday, Pearce spent most of the afternoon walking up and down the driveway, waiting for Borowski. Just about 5 feet tall, her white hair matched her white cardigan, which was embroidered with butterflies. She wore pink glasses, which matched her pink frosted nails.
Just before 4 p.m., Borowski thundered into the driveway, followed by a buddy riding a big, silver Honda.
"I'm your chauffeur today," Borowski said, grinning and taking off his helmet. He was wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a leather vest.
Pearce's eyes widened. She made her way slowly toward the bike and touched the seat. Everyone made small talk for a while and Fred Pearce showed a sepia-tinged photo of the upstate New York home he and his wife built many decades ago.
Then Borowski asked June Pearce if she wanted to take a ride. Pearce shook her head — how on earth would she ever get on the bike? "No way," she said firmly.
Maybe, thought Brown, her mother was just embarrassed that she wasn't able to straddle the bike on her own.
Borowski, Brown and the granddaughters said they would help her on. 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 Borowski gently lifted her onto the back.
"I wish I was a lot younger," Pearce said, adjusting her helmet. Borowski climbed on.
"Hold on tight," he said, and started the motor. The bike was so loud the grass near the driveway vibrated. Brown felt her heart thumping loudly out of excitement — and a bit of fear that Pearce would fall off.
Pearce's husband watched from a few feet away. "I've got all of my fingers crossed for her," he said. There were tears in his eyes; for the last three years, he has been caring for her through her chemotherapy and radiation.
"I've been lucky to keep her alive," he said softly. "I hope this gives her another six months."
June Pearce wrapped her arms around Borowski's chest and he took off, slowly. They went around the block twice, past the retirees watering their lawns, past the pastel-colored mobile homes — and Pearce wore a tiny smile as they rumbled into the driveway.
"What we're giving today is a memory," 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."