Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Memory Lane

I used to ride a big wheel when I was seven years old...every waking moment that I could be out side it seemed i was on my big wheel.  It was huge, or at least that is my memory of it.  I recall it being a heavy duty plastic yellow body with red bars and three big black wheels and the sound of a big wheel is unmistakable on the concrete sidewalk...if you have never heard one it would probably scare the crap out of you late at night...it sounds not unlike a small jet humming with a slight push and pull of the small yet tireless and urgent pedal strokes that propel the little three wheeled chariot forward over the click clack of the sidewalk cracks and sometimes popping rocks and twigs in the same motion.  Close to the ground you could really ride them hard and take a turn at full speed, skidding the back wheels out and if you were lucky, you'd keep going, but many times you'd flip over or crash into the nearest bush...and don't get me started on the down hill shenanigans...these machines were crude and had no breaks and to boot, they were a fixed gear, meaning that if you went fast enough, you couldn't keep up with your little legs as the pedals had reached terminal velocity and could actually turn your legs into a puree if you tried to slow them down...so, you just took your feet off and hoped for the best...of course, the Flinstone method of braking was the most utilized method, or at extreme high speed and completely hopeless situations, the low side bail out onto a soft patch of grass.  Yes, the big wheel...it was my version of the bike and motorcycles that i ride today, except they both have breaks.

I used to learn the neighborhood with that big wheel and spend hours exploring different paths and courses and jumps and which sidewalks were the smoothest.  It was also the machine that one time got me completely lost and took me on a huge adventure....

I had just moved to Santa Monica from Colorado I believe...this had been after a few different moves in my younger years and I recall not being to happy about the whole thing.  I had left my friends again and this time I was taking matters into my own hands...i was going to show my parents a thing or two...I would get on my big wheel and ride off into the sunset....well, at least I thought i would.  So, the first morning that I was in my new home, a small white single story stucco house, with brown trim and diamond shaped windows and a shingle roof that had a cozy fuzzy texture and made it feel like the Shire, I decided to take a journey.  I probably would never return and my parents would miss me and it would have served them right, because I was 7 years old and not to be trifled with.  I didn't prepare the journey well.  No food, or water, or anything remotely resembling supplies, just the big wheel, my Osh Gosh b' Gosh overalls, sneaks, and a striped shirt I believe...red and white to be exact, my favorite one.  

I was off...down the long driveway with the tall green hedges and the funny looking Palm Trees and then out onto the sidewalk...aah, the open road, er sidewalk...I turned right and never looked back.  What I was thinking I don't know...it was not unlike the prison that has no walls because the guard says to you, "Ha, look around you...where will you go?  Miles of wilderness surround this place.  Don't you get it?  This is the prison....you will never escape."   Who cared, I was free...rolling on the sweet grey concrete over the cracks, click clack, pause, stand up, look both ways, and then mutiny...CROSS THE STREET to the next block...that was the point of no return...I had broken the one rule of big wheel lore...or at least Parent law...I had done it...i had left the domain of my block...my world, my island, my earth...i had propelled myself into orbit at full speed and didn't dare look back....how sweet it was.

As the day continued I rode...sometimes I would stop and pretend I was a knight in the forest and other times I would camp out on someones yard for a bit, in the warm grass, but as the day grew longer and, if you remember, days when you are kid are LOOONG, I had a dreadful feeling that I was no longer in Kansas anymore, and I began to panic a bit, realizing i had absolutely no idea where i was, what street i lived on, my address...anything...i was one day into my new habitat and hopelessly lost.  At this point I began trying to retrace my steps and i remember riding down what I thought were familiar streets, only to find that I had increased my radius of exploration and was more lost than ever at this point...I even managed to find my way to the outer edges of my world at that time...Montana Blvd, a busy street with large and fast cars and too many adults...that scared me the most...When was the last time you sat really low to the ground and looked up at everything...try it...not fun, more like a house of horrors if you are in the right frame of mind..everything is loud and fast and big and when you pass people who may be walking by while riding the big wheel, your head only goes to their knees...again...7 years old, small, people and cars big...low to the ground, scary.

I think at this point, i cried.  I was really lost, this was not fun anymore.  I was going to starve to death on the front lawn of some unknown stranger. I just wanted to be home, trouble or not, for I knew there would be a large spanking waiting...I was sure of it...but I didn't care anymore, i wanted my trip to be done.

It was at this point I had managed to somehow pass a house I had passed before...a very large, old historical looking home, with huge windows, a wrap around porch, huge pine trees in the front, an old gold station wagon in the front...and as i rode by the side where the hedges were huge and tall, I rode very slow....it was then that I saw her....she was very old, with white hair and a skinny face, but not the kind that scares a kid...she was magical and white and had on green gardening gloves and she was half in and half out of the hedge with some clippers and as I rode by, she stopped and poked her head out and said....."Are you lost?" just like that...she knew it...i must have looked like a soldier returning from a 4 year campaign...or just a scared little kid with dried tears and probably a few boogers in his nose.  I stopped a bit past her, stood up from my mount and said...."yes...i am."  
"Well, we can't have that now can we."
She proceeded to walk me up onto the porch and sit me down while she went inside for her walking shoes.  She informed me that we were going to walk around and see if we could find where I lived...which we did.  I think I took her on a 2 hour stroll through the neighbor hood, and by now, i had ridden down many of the same streets 3 times, each time feeling like they were familiar, but realizing that they were not the right one...she never skipped a beat, she walked behind me and along side me, smiling and talking and asking me questions about where I lived...I think she was an angel.

Eventually, we made it back to her house and I remember she took me inside and gave me a lemonade and by now it was growing dark, not quite dusk yet, but the sun was on its way out.  I remember the sound here clock made in that large house.  It was a wood interior, with big wood furniture and large warm rugs and wood floors and a huge staircase leading up with a banister that screamed for someone to slide down it...and I could hear her rummaging around in the kitchen and then out she came...with cookies and car keys...we were off....We loaded up into her gold station wagon, the big wheel in the back and me in the front...barely able to see over the dash and we started driving...all over...slowly....and she hummed softly, calmly, all the time I felt safe.  And then it happened...we were on a street that I grew to know as Carslyle and 23rd...and i saw him...my dad, coming out of the front steps looking very worried, and there was his car, a silver bmw with the flashers on and I just about jumped out of the car!!!
"There's my dad!!!" I shouted.
"Oh goodie." I think is what she said...something sweet and cute, but i really can't recall as I was completely overwhelmed with relief and fear of my young life for the punishment I would probably get....we pulled over and she got out and as we opened the car door, I burst onto the lawn and rushed to him...I remember him giving me a huge hug and asking all the normal worried parent questions..."where have you been?, we were so worried! What were you thinking??" etc...but to a kid, who cared at that point...i was safe, back from my epic journey, of which I survived.  

I don't really remember what happened next other than my dad thanking her profusely and i think she smiled and gave me a hug and told me to come visit her.  And that was that, into my dad's car and home, where mom was also waiting and beside herself with relief.  I had been gone a total of probably 7 hours in a strange new place and they had been searching for me for a while, not thinking I had gotten too far on my big wheel, slowly expanding their search not wanting to think the worst.

In truth, i had ridden from 20th street to 26th street, and up and down the entire length of the small world i would grow to know as North Montana, which was 4 blocks long...a large area to cover on a bigwheel...

It wasn't till later in my years that life came full circle...that house where I was rescued became the corner house of my youth and childhood, as my dad bought a house on the same block, just a few doors down.  I would pass by it every day and wonder if she would remember me.  I am sad to say, i never had the courage to visit, until I heard that she had passed and eventually the house was redone, thankfully to restore it as a historical monument, but I will never forget her that day...She was my Aslan, my Gandalf, my Bilbo, my magical angel....

I don't think i got spanked that night because there is a fine line as a parent when you realize that punishment would probably not work...I had learned my lesson well enough and a spanking would just be redundant and mean...but i think i wan't allowed to ride the Big Wheel for a bit...I wasn't worried...i had plenty to keep me busy in the back yard of my new world...besides, I was only 7 and the days were long, so I had plenty of time to plan my next journey.....


Ms. Conley said...

What an amazing adventure for a 7 year old.....what ever happened to big wheels?..it would be fun if they made a come back....

Lisa said...

I LOVED this story! I love the themes of courage, adventure, and exploration. It seems these things always lead us to the place we belong. Our home, if you will.

Anonymous said...

I remember this like it was yesterday, and I always thought you just got lost. Had I known you were running away, well.... And she was driving a 1963 Buick LeSabre wagon. That car was parked in their back yard for the next 20 years, until she died. And you probably remember how her husband died.

But I sure was relieved when I saw your little face in her car.


Swirly said...

LOVED the Big Wheels...what an adventure. I think it was a good one to have at a young age - you started to learn how to find your way back home. :)