READFIELD — Some people buy their mothers flowers for Mother’s Day. Donna McGibney bought her mom a motorcycle.
Actually, she bought it for herself — but it came with a sidecar so her mom could ride with her.
The mother and daughter are celebrating their fifth Mother’s Day since the purchase of the motorcycle and sidecar and have been loving their new-found way to bond and travel from the home they share in Readfield.
Donna, 61, drives while her 88-year-old mother, Charlotte McGibney, rides in the sidecar, turning heads when they drive up and down Maine’s countryside.
Donna bought the motorcycle and sidecar six years ago for the occasion as an upgrade from her smaller motorcycle, a Honda Rebel. She thought if she bought a bigger bike with a sidecar, then her mother could go with her.
“I suppose I could have bought her a potted plant, but no,” Donna said.
Expecting the matter to be dismissed, Donna asked her mother if she would ride in a sidecar if she bought one. To Donna’s surprise, Charlotte said yes.
Donna spotted an Uncle Henry’s advertisement for a 1976 Honda Goldwing and sidecar, and when she went to go check out the bike, she said, she liked it right away. Donna said she remembers the man she bought it from being surprised when she told him the sidecar would be perfect for her mother, then 82 years old, who was waiting in the car and waved to him.
She said they drive any chance they get, sticking to country roads where the view is better. The two have traveled to Prince Edward Island in Canada and the White Mountains in New Hampshire, as well as across Maine, from the coast to Washington County. The two joked that they know every ice cream and hot dog vendor in the state.
It can get cold riding in the sidecar, Charlotte said, so she suits up in a warm purple coat and, occasionally, mittens. She’s not a fan of wearing a helmet, but her daughter insists each of them wear one.
Charlotte, who is not quite 5 feet tall, needs a step stool and a helping hand to climb into the sidecar. Once settled in, she grins, excited for the trip. The sidecar’s original design was too difficult for Charlotte to climb into, so her son and Donna’s brother, Richard McGibney, modified the top of it. The sidecar now opens on a hinge, like a clamshell, so Charlotte can get in and out easily.
Charlotte said the view from the sidecar is better than riding as a passenger in a car, and she does not feel intimidated by riding low to the ground.
“Why should I be afraid? She’s a good driver,” she said.
Donna said even if she mentions going on a quick trip down the road, Charlotte will start getting ready, too.
“I’m ready! She’s not going without me,” Charlotte said.
Donna, a 5-feet-1-inch-tall assistant pastor of Wayside Chapel in West Gardiner and retired principal of Helen Thompson School in the same town, said her interest in motorcycles began after a few rides on one as a teenager.
About eight years ago, Donna enrolled with 11 men in a motorcycle riding class and got her license. Her daughter, Gerri Chesney, said she remembers when her mother announced she wanted to buy a motorcycle.
“I said ‘You’re crazy, Mom,’ but she bought it and she loves it,” Chesney said.
Years later, Chesney said, one of her friends excitedly announced he had spotted the elderly pair driving through town, not knowing they were Chesney’s mother and grandmother.
Donna said she used to ride her motorcycle to work at the school and has driven it to church. Before she retired from the school in 2010, she offered her students a ride in the sidecar as a raffle prize and said she gave the winner, a first-grade girl, a ride while the girl’s mother followed and took pictures.
One of the younger students didn’t believe the motorcycle was hers, Donna said, until she took it for a short spin in front of him.
The three generations of women started sharing a home in 2001 when Charlotte’s husband, Richard, died. They lived together in Winthrop until 2005, when Donna bought a cabin down a winding dirt road in Readfield that was once part of a children’s summer camp.
The weathered cabin was in need of repair if it was going to house the three women, Donna said. It was an old boys’ dormitory with a group shower, no closets and wood posts as the foundation.
However, Donna said she always loves being able to take something old and bring it to its full potential.
“I saw a wide-open palette to do what I want with,” she said.
After she had moved to the cabin and Gerri had moved to her own home, Donna said she often felt guilty about riding while her mother was alone. Donna decided that she wanted to buy a bike with a sidecar so her mother wouldn’t be “stuck here all the time, while I’m off gallivanting about.”
Donna said her father never had a motorcycle, and she and her mother sometimes wonder what he would think if he could see the two out riding.
“We’ve often joked the old man is looking down and laughing,” Donna said.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252