As I nervously watched my daughters reeling down our street in an abandoned shopping cart, memories of my own childhood misadventures rushed into my head.
Any kid who could get his hands on certain common household items like shopping carts and refrigerator boxes, was golden.
On spring in the 1970’s, my brother Tray scored two large inner tubes. He called his friend, Tracy, to come over to help him figure out what to do with them. Tray and his friends were in Junior High School and wanted nothing to do with little sisters like me. They were mischievous, parted their hair in the center, listened to Foreigner and Supertramp, and said things like, “That’s decent.”
After lunch, Tracy and Tray disappeared to hatch their plan while I trotted up the hill to the neighbor’s house to find my two friends.
We had recently moved from town into a rural neighborhood on the side of a hill with only five houses. Our house was at the bottom of the hill on the road, and my two girlfriends lived at the top of the hill near the woods.
Starting from the tree line, our hill sloped steadily downward, flattening out a bit at the neighbor’s property, but then taking a steep drop toward a barrier of blue spruces, my friends’ grandma’s house, and the road beyond. In winter, we rode sleds down the long hill and in summer we rolled down the hill and played in the tall grass.
As I trudged barefooted up the hill to find my friends, I picked a handful of newly sprouted dandelions along the way.
About an hour later, there was a knock at my neighbors’ playhouse door.
“Hey, Lisa! C’meer! Wanna do something fun with me and Tracy?!”
Completely gullible, I threw the baby doll I was nurturing into the spider-webbed corner and ran out the door. “Whaddya wanna do?!” I yelled excitedly.
Tracy and Tray lead me to the side of the neighbors’ house where I saw the inner tubes lashed together, side by side, with twine. Glancing sideways at each other and down at me, my brother said, “Lisa, if you climb inside the tubes, we’ll roll you down the hill and it’ll be really fun!”
I couldn’t see the red flags or hear the alarm bells going off. All I knew is that my big brother finally wanted to play with me.
I crouched down and climbed into the center hole, gripping the metal valves like handles just as they instructed. With my chin on my chest and my legs criss-crossed, I fit snuggly into the tiny space.
Assuring me that the ride would be better than the Scrambler at the County Fair, they carefully shoved me off down the hill.
As the tubes took their first few rotations, I squealed with excitement. But then, I reached the sharp drop off at the front of the neighbors’ property, and the tubes spun wildly with the sudden acceleration.
The undulations in the grass sent the tubes airborne, causing them to change shape as they hit the ground. The circle distorted into an elongated oval with the impact, and my teeth clacked.
As the contraption flew down the hill toward the border of blue spruces, my initial squeals of delight turned into breathy screams of terror, and then into the silence of survival mode.
From my cramped vantage point, I could see flashes of blue sky, the approaching spruces, grass, and Tray and Tracy screaming down the hill after me.
I knew I had to save myself from certain disaster, so as I slammed into the ground after a particularly high bounce, I allowed a foot to pop out of the ring. My toes immediately caught the grass, flipping the tubes like a quarter in a coin toss.
My wheel of terror teetered to a stop just before the spruces, and I instinctively burst out of the confining hole onto the grass. The entire universe spun around me.
I could hear faint yelling coming closer, until Tracy’s silhouette appeared against the blue sky above me.
“Lisa! Lisa! Are you OK?!” Tracy panted as a drop of spit began to ooze from his gaping mouth. Just before the elongated globule could detach itself, Tracy slurped and swallowed.
What an idiot I was to trust my brother. He had baited me into many a judo flip, locked closet and harebrained scheme, so why did I think that moment would be any different?
Anyone with an older sibling knows the answer to that question. No matter how much my brother acted annoyed by me, no matter how many times he gave me a charlie horse-producing punch, no matter how many times he called me “Chunky Dinners,” no matter how many of my Barbis he maimed, I would drop anything if he showed me the slightest amount of attention.
And now, as I watch my daughters careening down the street in a shopping cart, I say a little prayer that no one breaks an arm, I accept the natural order of things, and understand that some things never change.
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