Rosetta

This is a touching story written by James Moore about one of his customers at Moore's Bicycle Shop in Hattisburg, MS. Although this is his story, it's one that any of us in the bike business could have written. We all have similar tales and similar out-of-the-ordinary customers that grace our stores. Enjoy this peek into our world.

When you first open a bike shop everyone who comes in is your favorite customer - but over the years, customers segregate themselves into categories of more desirable and less desirable.

After 23 years I still appreciate all who contribute to my livelihood but there continues to be a select group of customers that I truly look forward to seeing in the shop.

When I hear these customers' voices from my secluded office all my work stops as I go out to enjoy their visit.

In 1984, my first year, a 47-year-young black female took a taxi from her home to my small shop in Petal with her broken bike in the trunk. She paid the cabby to wait while I got her on the road again.

Rosetta Burkett was a small impoverished woman with a big smile and a passionate love of her only means of transportation. As I worked on her hand-me-down bike, she browsed the shop asking me the prices of the bikes.

I tried to interest her in the newest fad called "mountain bikes" stating that they would be more suitable for scouring the roadside and carrying aluminum cans to the recycler - her source of income - but she only wanted to talk about the 10 speeds - her description of any bike with skinny tires, curved down bars and small seat.

Over the years Rosetta brought in old bike after old bike for basic resuscitation and always told me of her intentions to eventually come in and buy the fastest 10 speed I had. I can't remember how many different times she would have me figure up how much a week she would need to save for a specific model she spied on the floor - never to have even the 20 percent down payment we required for a new bike layaway.

Fast forward to five years ago when a customer calls and informs me that he met a lady searching a Dumpster for cans on an old bicycle and he would like to anonymously purchase her a new bike. By his description I knew he had met my Rosetta.

I invited the man to the shop where I agreed to sell him a new bike for Rosetta only if I could do so at my cost and I'd pay half of that. Feeling that I was the expert, I overruled Rosetta's longings for a racing bike and suggested a practical Giant Sedona comfort bike.

The deal was done and I went to Rosetta's humble apartment to inform her of the impending gift bike. I told her that I would deliver the bike at 10 a.m. the next day and left her in a state of overwhelmed joy.

The next day my employee (also my sister) was so excited about delivering the bike that she insisted we go an hour early. Ignoring my suggestion that Rosetta may not be ready at 9 a.m., I finally relented and we loaded the bike.

Keep in mind that at this time Rosetta is now 64 years old and covers the city daily on her bike as she makes her rounds to gather cans and check on those she refers to as "the elderly."

When we made the turn onto her street she was sitting in a chair by the side of the road dressed in her Sunday clothes, holding a Bible, and looking in our direction. Rosetta was hugging our necks before we got out of the vehicle and was tearful as we unloaded the bike.

Without hesitation she mounted the bike - Sunday dress and all - and road circles in the gravel parking lot making no attempt to avoid the puddles from the last night's rain.

I drove Rosetta home one day after she checked her bike in for repair. As I drove she told me of her good fortune over the weekend when she found a man's wallet on the floor of a Gulf Coast casino. She explained that she discovered $300 cash in the wallet and began "praising Jesus" for her good fortune.

Somewhat puzzled I asked Rosetta if the wallet contained any identification which would have allowed her to return the money to its rightful owner. She smiled and acknowledged that there was ID but she felt that God was using her to teach the man that he should be home with his family rather than spending their money in a casino.

How could I argue with an agent of God?

Even though Rosetta had a small one-bedroom apartment she spent most of her day using her bike to get around town doing for others. I finally convinced her to use a helmet and soon she would come in often and choose a new one always going for just the right look.

She preferred the BMX/Skate style helmets and chrome was her favorite color. When she paid, one never knew from which article of clothing she would be pulling her cash. Sometimes she kept cash hidden in several areas of her garments. We'd just turn our heads discreetly while she pulled together the funds to complete the transaction.

We got word from a family member that Rosetta was in the hospital a few months back and I took the crew to visit. Not accepting the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, she told me that just as soon as she was back on her feet that she would be in for a new 10-speed bicycle and she wanted the fastest that I could get. We assured her we would be waiting to make the deal happen when she was ready.

Rosetta recently died and her memorial service was held in the impoverished neighborhood she just months earlier scoured for cans. The simple white casket, the sole flower arrangement on the floor and the room full of mismatched metal folding chairs were characteristic of the meager life she had lived.

I had taken a photo of Rosetta taken the morning she received the gift bike and made a framed enlargement for the family.

Never has such a small afterthought of a gesture meant so much.

The family immediately placed the photo of a smiling, cycling Rosetta atop the closed casket. Through that photo it was comforting to feel the warmth of Rosetta's smile in that somber setting.

I am truly fortunate in my field of work that I am blessed to meet the Rosettas of our community. This privilege is not available to the investment banker or the manager of a Starbucks, but because of the utilitarian nature of my work it is available to me.

Leaving the visitation I read through the one page obituary and was haunted by the sentence that read, "Her close friends were Florence Floyd, Cliff Brown, and Mr. Moore."

I considered her a really good customer - she considered me friend. In the future I will try much harder to be worthy of such a title.

Rosetta is on a new journey now and I hope she encounters good bike shops with lots of fast 10 speeds on display. I hope they are all priced at $300 because I have a feeling that she just might have that amount tucked away somewhere on her person that even the undertaker failed to find. Godspeed, Rosetta, Godspeed.

Your friend, Mr. Moore

Reprinted with Permission

2 Comments so far...

A great story, sounds like you touched her life and she touched yours. I've seen people like Rosetta in my local shop who take a lot of time with the mechanics and the sales people. I'll have to remember in the bike business the gain doesn't always have to be monetary.

-Posted on May 8th, 2009 by j

This was a really neat and touching story. Thank you for sharing it. A beautiful friendship between you, your staff and Rosetta with love and acceptance that crossed racial and class lines. It is hard for so many people to do this. It's a shame though because those people can miss out on friendships that are rich, lovely and fun. I'm glad you took a picture of her. I know it meant a lot to the family who knew of your love for beloved Rosetta.

-Posted on May 20th, 2010 by Kassandra