Review - The Old Man and the Harley
A Last Ride Through our Father’s America
The Old Man and the Harley is the name of a book that I read recently, written by John J. Newkirk. The book captivated me. To be completely honest, it doesn’t look like the sort of book that I would normally be interested in. I guess the old adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover is proven once again.
The book made its way into my hands through my husband who had borrowed it from a friend. He has a group of friends that ride together. They all ride Harleys so I figured motorcycles must be the theme of the book.
As my husband was reading, he related things to me which piqued my interest. Laying the book down after he had finished, he turned to me and said that I should read it. He saw me hesitate slightly and quickly said that the book isn’t just about motorcycles and bikers, adding that he thought I would really enjoy the book. So I agreed to read it.
I realize that this is not a new book. In fact, it was published 2 years ago. Since I had never heard of the book until I read it, I thought perhaps others may have missed it as well.
None of the popular reviewer quotes come to mind. It isn’t a real page turner and I could put it down, but I knew immediately that I wanted to read the entire book. As I finished the last chapter, although I was alone, I said out loud, ‘wow.’
For a number of reasons, this book intrigued me. So I went to read reviews online. Although many of the reviewers mentioned they like the book, even quoting from its pages, I didn’t read anything from them that showed me that the book had an impact on them like it did me.
The reviews I read centered on the 2 main story lines. The first is about the father, the old man, who bought a 10 year old Harley back in 1939. His wish was to see both the World’s Fair in New York and the one in San Francisco.
We follow his journey on the old Harley across the country. The second story line features the son who attempts to recreate the journey years later. Woven through these story lines are side stories about family members and how life ultimately becomes history.
What I thought was missing in these reviews was the heart of the story. Now, I’m no editor and I write pretty much how I talk. So, for me to say that this book is literary brilliance is way off the mark. I’ve never even written a book review.
Maybe if I had read the reviews before reading the book instead of afterward, I wouldn’t feel that they missed the real intent of the book.
Perhaps they intentionally left out the intent, to allow the reader to reach their own conclusions. I hope that is the case.
Part Adventure. Part History. All American.
The America that was, is the backdrop for the story line that focuses on Jack, who is the old man of the title. He is just young pup at the time. Jack is 19 and it is the last summer of his youth. His adventure across the country fills the pages with the ideals and inspiration of the America that used to be. Jack introduces us to his family, and to Scarsdale Jack who flew with the Flying Tigers, and is an American Hero.
We met real people, not just caricatures. We see a way of life that is all but gone. Americans, who lived the values that today, we seem to have misplaced. They still have something to teach us. It is their ingenuity and their spirit that is needed by Americans today. This generation, dubbed The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, is barely remembered today. They are the parents of the Baby Boomers.
Their sacrifices and their sense of right and wrong are, for the most part, mere foot notes in some history book. Jack’s story brings this generation to life.
John is Jack’s son and the subject of the second story line. John grew up loved but always felt like he never quite measured up to the old man. He seeks this cross country trip to assuage those feelings and to learn how to say goodbye to the old man. What he learns along the way surprises him. We don’t meet very many people in this part of the story but we surely see the contrast and the similarities between the America of 1939 and the America of today. Plagued with the same demons that most of us carry around, John inevitably faces his inner adversaries and embraces his life. To me, this is the heart of the story.
Excerpts from the book
“Deception told me that faith is a sign of weakness –and that I should worship the planet instead of its Creator. And he would have me believe that the heart has gone out of our country, that is has seen its zenith, and that we have squandered the brilliance of our youth.
If defeatism thinks my people can be broken in just one generation, then he has grossly underestimated us. We may not always live up to our ideals, but show me a people who have ever set higher ones.
The heart has not gone out of my country. The brilliance of its youth is reborn with each generation that values freedom, honor and respect –and I believe out greatest generation is yet to come.
Ours is not a time for surrender. It is a time for choosing. “
The old man’s cousin and American Hero, of the legendary Flying Tigers
The Old Man and the Harley