Monday, August 8, 2011

our friend gravity.

Looking back on my childhood depending on what I'm remembering, I smile. Other times I drop the iPod and think to myself "how on earth were we allowed to do THAT?"
When I was 11, my older sister was 13 and rapidly losing interest in such things, and my younger brother was almost 9, my Dad took us out to the garage (where there was an abundant supply of dead fowl, namely chinese and mourning doves to be found, a la cat) opened up the garage door, and said "let's make a gravity cart.
Accurately named as it had no motor and consequently no "Go" to it, we were homeschooled. We called things as we saw them, as they should be, and never referred to them as culture had so arbitrarily. And so we were never "teenagers" we were "young adults." We said "yes Mother" and "yes Father" not "yeah" "okay" or "whatever." Well, sometimes we said those too. 
Instead of rebellion taking on the form of illicit and underage consumption of shadily acquired alcohol, sneaking out of bedroom windows, or driving prior to licensing (well, maybe one or all of the above did in fact occur) it was more centered around the answering of the phone in varying ways other than the instructed "Hello the Eldridges, this is (child's name), may I ask who's calling please?"
You might think it counter-intuitive to teach a child that greeting when they were too young to understand the sentence itself. More than once it led the caller directly into a decidedly one-way conversation with a very small, blank-faced individual wearing only a diaper and barely able to reach up and touch the counter on which the phone. We uttered that greeting many times a day regardless of our age and most of the world loved it.
Save for Mrs. Lueders, who everytime she called would laugh and ignore the out-of-place formality. "Can I talk to your Mom?"
"Yes, one moment please."
What began as acquiescing to parental requests and therefore easily excusing ourselves from disobedience and a loving correctional spank rapidly became habit, and soon it was carried out into our teen and tween years when we were far, far above the threat of any seat-based path adjustment and just how we answered the phone.

Out of earshot from the "house phone" and not necessarily far away from the "walkaround phone" as no one really ever knew where it was -- just who had it last -- we had rapidly changed into pre-paint-stained shirts and shorts and were now Outside Working With Dad.
That phrase is capitalized because it does not belong with any other phrase. When you were working with Dad you were not thinking about what you'd be doing Sunday after church. You weren't sitting around watching someone else work, and you definitely were not in the house on the computer. You were working with Dad, and until the job was done that was where you were. Hustling, asking for something to do if what you'd done was in fact, done, wearing safety glasses far to big for your young face, and hustling some more.
"Grab the other end of that board over there."
"Hand me that nail."
"Here, you finish that post base." 
Occasionally through small text snuck in the last moment of pre-work bartering one might arrange a devious way of scooting out early on the tasks to be completed. Among approved excuses were:
"I have soccer practice"
"I have to help Mom make dinner"
"I'm going over to the Smythes to babysit"
"I still have math homework from yesterday"
"I'm a neighbor kid and I have to go home now." While this one worked on others more often than not, no matter how many times I tried I always had to fall back on "I still have math homework from yesterday" which rarely netted me any better results. I always had leftover math homework. I'm going to be 24 this year and I guarantee you somewhere in my Mom's Microsoft Works '97 documents folder is a piece of yet-to-be-printed paper that requires me to do 35 more lessons.
But this was different than all that; this was a Saturday-afternoon project with imminent joy awaiting us.
There was a tangible excitement in the air -- something you could taste, feel and salivate over. I think it was the future and in it was a vehicle for us to ride, crash and drive again all on our very own. Wherever we liked. At speeds of our choosing. 
And that scares me to remember, because we did. 

Several hours, banged fingers and brake-adjustments later ("the paper doesn't have it right, we need to change the system around, that wouldn't stop you") there it was. 
Dad was under no false impressions as to how this four-wheeled miniature horse would be treated. He had built the seat on the gravity cart so that three children could sit in it comfortably together, not uncomfortably. But he knew that it would be minutes before the goal would be for any and all interested parties to ride together with an "older" kid steering.
And so we rode. 
The helmets stayed on while Mom and Dad were within eyeshot, then were chucked into the neighbor's 700' tall hedge where they would remain until dusk when we knew every minute was a gamble as it got closer and closer to "dark" or "curfew." When Mom stepped outside to yell "ELDRIDGE CHILDREN" at the top of her lungs, we had only a minute or two to make it to the house, there was no reason to take longer. We spent all summer afternoon running around at top speed, why slow then? There was dinner and tall, cold glasses of ice water waiting.
The hills we rode on were on either side of our valley at the end of our street.
One was affectionately named "Witch Hill" and the other "Suicide Hill."
Strangely enough, the hill we went up the most often was "Suicide Hill." We did so because it was "better" and you could definitely go faster. At the bottom of the incredibly steep "Witch Hill" the road below ran perpendicular, making it impossible to turn and continue joy-riding without either running into   the creek (which lay at the bottom of a ditch with boulders on either side) or flipping over the (bike, gravity cart, roller blades, skateboard, wagon...). 
When I look back and remember how much fun it was to ride the gravity cart, how awesome the neighbor kids with Xboxes and cable tv thought we were, and how many times we would continue riding after scraping up toes, knees, shins, elbows, faces and arms, I am astonished that neither witch nor suicide hill claimed our little danger-vaccinated lives.
Especially when ideas like:
"Let's try five kids at a time!"
"Gravity cart ramp!"
"Now let's see who can do it with no brakes for the longest!"
"Put a chair on the seat so you can sit up higher!"
"We don't need anyone at the bottom to yell car this time, just hop on" nearly killed us. It wasn't any of the three singularly, but a combination of the last three when the gravity cart hit a neighbor's SUV while they were driving up the hill that nearly ended my risk-riddled life.
Mom and Dad never found out because, as we explained to each other as we walked the gravity cart shakily back that waning dusk, "those are the neighbors that don't talk to anyone. They just watch tv all day and won't even wave back even though we wave every time. They probably don't even know where we live so there's no way we'll get in trouble."
Thank God they didn't, because we didn't. But we did use the brake at least a little bit from then on, it wasn't THAT uncool anymore.

Our second model that came out several years after.

1 comment:

  1. We had to use those exact phone phrases! Homeschoolers unite.