Blast From the Past

I bring you this story by special request. My last Random Dozen meme inspired requests for, The Coolest Kid, a true story from my childhood which was originally posted on my now defunct blog, The Grownups Wanted Us Dead. Enjoy reading about the time I rode my bike off a cliff.

The Coolest Kid

1967 Schwinn Sting RayFor my 9th birthday I received a brand new bike. It was a pink and white Schwinn Sting Ray complete with banana seat, flared handlebars and hand brakes. It was the coolest bike in the neighborhood — which, of course, made me the coolest kid.

Mr. LaBeau, my baby-sitter’s husband, insisted that I try out the bike in his driveway before he would allow me on the street. That is probably a good thing, because I used the side of the garage as brakes several times before I learned not to pedal backwards, but squeeze the hand grips instead.

Finally I was declared street worthy and I zipped to the homes of all of my friends, cajoling each of them in turn to join me outside on their own wheels. There were about eight of us zooming through the neighborhood in follow-the-leader style. Me — the coolest kid in the neighborhood — being the leader, of course.

They followed me around the block, through the empty field, across the playground, around the school building, and then — knowing I would loose the cowards — I headed straight for Dead Man’s Trail, an almost vertical drop into the big gully behind the school house. At the bottom of the drop where the trail leveled out it passed between two pine trees and immediately made a 50 degree turn. Bikes that didn’t make the turn ended up about six feet down in a narrow stream. Riders flew several feet through the air and landed in a tangle of wild raspberry bushes. Very few of us had the guts to take that trail on our bikes.

Some say that dare-devil bravery is not really courage. It is, instead, a form of hubris birthed by lack of fore-thought. I’d like to argue that point. I’d like to, but I can’t.

I took the trail at top speed. Both wheels left the ground and I soared several feet, landing smoothly. I rocketed down the trail, standing on the pedals with my long hair streaming in my wake. I imagined my friends all standing at the rim, watching me in awe. Unfortunately, I couldn’t look. Coming up fast were two huge yellow pine trees. It took a steady hand to maneuver between them. More than once when riding my “baby-bike” I had left the back of my knuckles on the bark of one of those trees. The best thing to do was let go of the handlebars and just steer with one’s fingertips. That way no skin was lost. The passage only took a fraction of a second, so the bike never had time to go out of control.

I was an expert at fingertip steering — in fact, I was an expert in hands-free steering, but not with a 50 degree curve ahead of me. I let go of the handlebars for a nanosecond. My bike shot into the gap between the trees. Those fancy new, flared out handlebars scraped bark from both trunks. I jerked my hands to my chest as the bike jolted to a stop. Like a rocket, I flew ten feet through the air, sailing over the embankment and the stream, arching over the raspberry patch and landing upside down in it’s southern-most branches. Unfortunately, despite their tenacious grip, they weren’t strong enough to hold me. I crashed to earth flat on my back, staring up at the sky. Stars burst behind my eyes, and I swear I heard little birds singing my death chant.

My friends left their bikes at the top of the trail and clambered down. They had to climb the embankment, circle the raspberry patch and fight through a Pussy Willow thicket to get to me. By the time they arrived, I had regained my feet and rid myself of most most of the raspberry branches. Some of the thorns, however, stayed with me throughout the summer.

I heard my friends crashing through the underbrush and braced myself for the onslaught of their teasing. They greeted me instead with joy and concern. Sugar and Cheerleader began searching for my skin beneath the blood. Handsome insisted on checking for broken bones. Amazingly, aside from being a bit crumpled and scratched, I was fine.

My friends wanted to take me home. I insisted on being taken to my bike. It stood right where I’d left it, wedged between the two trees at the bottom of the trail. Handsome freed it with a tug, and aside from a mangled right handgrip, it was none the worse for wear.

With Handsome helping me, and Stretch and Sugar on either side of my bike, we climbed the hill. The boys refused to return my bike at the top. They insisted on delivering me to the tender mercies of my grandmother. They escorted me all the way into the kitchen.

Gram was cooking lunch. She stood in front of the kitchen stove and looked me over from head to foot, tangled hair, tattered clothing and blood smeared skin. She sighed, shook her head and said, “I swear, one of these days you’re going to kill yourself. I ought to just get it over with and do it for you.”

I would have felt a lot better at that statement had she not been holding a wooden spoon. However, Gram didn’t spank. Her punishments were much more subtle. She stood me in the bathtub, scrubbed me with a stiff-bristled wooden brush, painted me in Mercurochrome, and made me sit on the kitchen stool for days on end — well, at least one.

By the time I made it outside every kid within five square blocks wanted a look at my cuts and to hear my Dead Man’s Trial survival tale. Really, it wasn’t anything special. Just pretty much what you’d expect from the coolest kid in the neighborhood.

Oat-Times Remembered

This morning as I stood in the kitchen cooking oatmeal, my mind tripped back into my more and more distant past. It was a lovely Summer morning. I was at my uncle’s home, having spent the night, and my cousins and I tumbled out of our beds like puppies and ran outside to conquer the day. As we charged past my aunt she yelled, “Don’t go far. Breakfast is cooking.” At least one of us probably answered her, but she and her warning were both forgotten before we’d cleared the back porch.

Several hours later we were down by the creek making pine needle rafts, when somebody said, “I wonder if breakfast is ready?” We all froze, and listened. My aunt had a huge cowbell she rang to call us in for meals. No echoes from it lingered on the breeze.

“Can we even hear the bell from here?” Caution asked.

“I doubt it,” Rumble responded.

“I’m hungry,” Tattle wailed. Suddenly we were all hungry — ravenous, even. We scrambled back through the woods and into my aunt’s kitchen. It was empty save for the faint aroma of sausage.

My aunt entered the kitchen right behind us. She informed us that we had missed breakfast, but lunch was in two hours, and we’d just have to wait. She had a garden to weed, besides, she wasn’t running a restaurant.

We shuffled back outside and sat glumly on the stoop for about 45 seconds, then something caught our fancy and we ran off to play. When we judged that the appropriate time for lunch had come we bounced back to the house only to discover yet again that we had missed it. The kitchen was clean and my aunt was mucking out the barn. She ordered us to go get cleaned up because we were going to Grandpa and Grandma W’s in just a few minutes.

Cookies! We washed and brushed and dressed in a flash. Grandma W. would feed us!

Not.

Aunt explained to her mother, Grandma W., that we had chosen not to come in for our regular meals, therefore we were not permitted any snacks! Grandma W. put the cookie jar away. We went outside, shuffled over to the barn and climbed up on the coral rails, where we sat like pouting magpies. Whimpers, whines, and choruses of, “I’m hungry,” accompanied us.

Tattle, my youngest cousin, was crying in earnest. We sent her back to the house alone thinking they might at least feed her, but she returned in moments still wailing. That’s when Caution, the eldest of us, got this great idea. “Come with me!” He ordered. “I know where there’s food!”

We followed him into the barn and straight to the oat bin. Food! We dug in with both hands. Who could have predicted that raw oats would taste so good?

Of course they made us thirsty.

Our next stop was the pump. Caution worked the long red handle and got the water flowing. We gulped it down from our cupped hands. I was so thirsty I am certain I drank a gallon!

And for the moment we were content. Our tummies were replete. We were once again ready for some serious play, except …

… maybe we were just a little too full?

And in no time at all our stomachs were in expanding agony. We fell to the ground and wreathed in pain. My aunt found us there, wiggling and moaning like macabre earthworms. She ordered us to come inside to dinner.

Between our moaning and wailing, we somehow managed to explain that we had eaten far too many oats and were in mortal peril. She asked us when we had eaten the oats. We told her it had been shortly after we’d arrived. She glanced at her watch and ordered us all into the house.

Once inside we were each given a huge spoonful of some nasty medicine that made us belch tremendously, and of course reduced us to fits of giggles. It also eased most of the pain in our stomachs.

Aunt ordered us to the dinner table.

That raised another chorus of protests. We did not want food. She remained unmoved by our pleas and served us each a small bowl of ham and bean soup and then stood watchover us to ensure we ate every bite.

Afterward she said none of this would have happened if we had come in at mealtime, and she hoped we’d learned our lesson.

We most certainly had. After that whenever we skipped meals we had enough sense not to eat more than a small handful of oats!