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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Don't Use Your Good Shoes for Brakes!


“Don’t use your good shoes for brakes!”

That was my Mom’s parting admonition as I dashed out the door for a homemade “go cart” race. We were city kids. Suburbs, actually. Our family lived in cul-de-sac (called a “close” in England) of a nice little neighborhood, filled with average families and kids, which meant there was usually someone around to hang out with. The neighborhood kids often got together for bicycle races, snowball fights, playing marbles and, occasionally, go cart racing.

Most of the older kids at some time or other had such a go cart. Looking back, I realize how comical and clunky they were- they must have looked like rolling junk piles! Of course, the building of these fine racing machines required lots of assistance from our Dads. The base of the go cart was often the frame and wheels from a pram. “Pram” is short for Perambulator, an English baby carriage. Put the image of a modern baby stroller out of your mind. Not like that at all. These now-old-fashioned-prams were huge affairs with a hood to protect baby from the weather, and wheels almost as large as a kid’s bicycle - ideal for racing. To give you an idea of how they looked, above is a photo of a typical English pram of that era. Check out those wheels! At the time we thought our go carts were great. I suppose most of today’s kids wouldn’t be caught dead in one, but we had no such sophistications. We were quite adept at making our own fun, and knew how to amuse ourselves for hours at a time with very little TV and - yikes! - no video games or computer. But back to the go carts.

When the would-be racers had their go carts ready, we’d decide on the ideal place- a relatively quiet road that ran downhill and had a wide sidewalk. Yes, I know we shouldn’t have been playing next to the road, but we were city kids and surrounded by roads. Besides, we were used to walking to school everyday along busy roads; we were traffic savvy and well drilled by our parents on safety.

Our go carts had no motors, pedals or any other mechanical means of getting the vehicle really moving, except gravity. Hence the selection of a nice long road with a enticing downhill slope. Ready to race, we lined the go carts up at the starting point, and when someone yelled, “Ready, set, GO!” off we went! I laugh even now thinking about it. What a bunch of crazy, adventurous kids we were. I’m sure the neighbors tut-tutted in disapproval as we careened past, a disorganized jumble of arms, legs, pram wheels and wildly yelling kids. It was tremendously exciting!

Now the only disadvantage to a great hill is that at some point it comes to an end. Going down a good slope you can get up some speed, which posed a problem- not only did our go carts not have pedals, they didn’t have brakes either. But that didn’t bother us in the least- we had a solution: when we got close to the bottom of the hill we lowered our feet and, flat-footed, dragged them on the pavement to slow the go cart down. The friction generated enough heat that you could feel it through your shoes. A few runs down the hill sure put some fast wear and tear on a pair of shoes. I’m not that old (well, you know, not that old) but I well remember that a nice new pair of real leather shoes was a big deal, and new shoes were to be taken care of and made to last as long as possible. No, it wouldn’t do to put six months of wear on a pair of good shoes in one day; hence my Mom’s firm reminder, “Don’t use your good shoes for brakes!”

There was one other disadvantage to that wild ride down... the go cart had to be hauled back up the hill after each tantalizingly short thrill ride. No wonder us kids had no problems sleeping at night- we were worn out.

I think back to our childhood pursuits and I’m glad I grew up when I did. The world was not as unkind or dangerous a place as it is today. Kids were pretty safe roaming around the neighborhood, discovering new things, riding our bikes down new roads, exploring the fields and woods past our neighborhood. The freedom to run, play, and roam allowed our young imaginations to run wild. We were cowboys and cowgirls one day, pirates another, sometimes castaways a la Robinson Crusoe and we'd build a shelter from the elements (usually an accommodating shrub or low hanging tree branch which we fortified with extra branches on top). I remember once we built such a shelter and decided to stay in it even though we knew it was going to rain. We thought we’d done a good job on our shelter and we'd stay dry. The rain came, and after a while we tired of it dripping on our heads and making us shiver. It was good then to no longer be a castaway and return to a warm, dry home.

It’s been said that “a child’s play is a child’s work.” When a child is playing, they’re learning. What a wonderful thing for a kid to grow up playing outdoors- having adventures, learning about themselves, nature, and the world around them.

Even if they do wear their good shoes out once in a while.

28 comments:

Cathyann said...

great read, Teresa.
Brought me back to the days of imaginary play and being told to "go outside and play" with never a concern by the parents on the block where I lived in NYC. What happened?

Dors said...

What a wonderful story and it took me back many years to my childhood in England where I was born and grew up just the way you did Teresa and yes they were fun days.
We only had one new pair of shoes each year and they sure had to last.

Thank you for sharing a snipit of the good old days.

Jo Castillo said...

Ahhh,,, I love this story. It brings back so many memories. Thanks, lady.

Rosie said...

What a wonderful post - you've have just spun me back in time to over 50 years ago - my go-cart was the base of an old push-chair (today they are far more streamlined and high tec) two planks of wood and a rope handle - I use to take it to the top of the path that we shared with our neighbour and hurtle down towards a concrete post in front of the kitchen windows - the horrified eyes of neighbour in one kitchen and Mum in the other would watch me use my feet on the concrete post to bounce my go-cart sideways to take it down our side of the pathway and in front of our back door where I finally used my feet on our shed door to stop. I must have done this several times a day - such happy memories:)

Jan said...

You always weave such evocative tales and bring to remembrance warm memories for me. I was raised in (very) flat Kansas so I don't recall go carts. But, I do remember the playing and roaming the country-side without fear. I also recall the "work" of learning of that time.

Thanks for the memories!

Laure Ferlita said...

Your memories have spiked several of mine - of forts, and exploring, and go-carts and roaming wild, free, and care-free! Thanks for the reminder!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Lovely trip down memory lane, Teresa. I must say your mum's words are a good maxim for life if you take it metaphorically!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Teresa - gremlins are still at work, because although my comment appears here I have had a message on e mail to say that it has not been accepted!

"JeanneG" said...

So glad you finally posted again. I starve in between for your wonderful stories.

I too am thankful I was raised in a different time. My mom was paranoid we would get hurt so kept us on a short leash. But we had so many things to keep us occupied and none were mechanical.

She would give us a simple treat in a little cup and we would take them out and under our grapevines to eat them. We were in our own little sanctuary. Now I shudder to think of the spiders that were probably under there as well.

Teresa said...

Cathyann: Wow...even in NYC you could roam? Oh what today's kids miss (and don't even know what they're missing)

Dors: Gosh, I remember the big to-do it was getting a new pair of school shoes. Our foot was solemnly measured by the salesman. The shoes had to be Clarks, real leather and Sensible. And they had better be taken care of! :-)

Jo: Welcome... brought back a lot of good memories for me while writing it.

Rosie: I remember the push chairs! Sounds like you had as much mischievous fun as we did. Hard to beat the fun and satisfaction of racing a go cart you helped build.

Jan: Sure wish today's kids knew how that freedom felt. Was great, wasn't it?

Laure: You too?! I didn't know so many others did the same crazy things we did as kids!

Weaver: Thank you. My Mum would be pleased to know you agree with her viewpoint! I think the gremlins have been ousted. Fingers crossed!

Jeanne: LOL!!! Sorry... funny how our perspective changes with time isn't it? What was once a sanctuary is now a suspect spot with spiders ominously lurking! I once had a spider collection (caught them all myself- with my hands - I was such a tomboy) but I certainly wouldn't want one now! Thank you for the nice comment- you're a sweetie.

jeannette stgermain said...

That is my daughter's baby carriage - she had one that just looked like the photo!!!
In my neighborhood (Holland) the little boys father's made their go-carts from wood, and of course there was a little competition among the boys (read:fathers) who had the coolest go-cart!

Lynne said...

Sounds like a wonderful childhood. It's always amazing to look back on the things we got up to.

acornmoon said...

I wonder if the world was safer then or did we hear less about the dangers from strangers, etc?

We had a cart also, made from the base of a Silver Cross pram, I had not thought about that for ages!

Gary Keimig said...

that is a great story.
I agree about the times as compared with the growing up problems of today. It is so sad that our world has become such a dangerous place.
When I was a kid my brother, neighbor kid,who had a burro, and myself built a Go Cart. It was so heavy after so much work put into it we decided to use the burro to pull it up the hill we intended coasting down. This old burro was very slow of foot but when she heard that
Go Cart behind her she moved like lightning bucking across the landscape. That Go Cart would fly into the air and everytime it landed more pieces flew off until there was nothing left of the Go Cart. It was probably a blessing from God that it happened as that hill was so steep and full of boulders we probably would have been killed coasting down it.

knittingdragonflies said...

Thanks for bringing back some memories that were long forgotten!
Vicki

Cindy said...

Fantastic post. I loved it. It was almost like reading a book that ended way to soon. I look forward to visiting again.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and for following.

Have a great night,
Cindy

Elise said...

Oh WOW, this is a great post & you have the most gorgeous site here. I had to stop by to leave this comment for you – and to say hello of course ! Your posts are creative and original and you have interesting pictures. It's all perfect ! Thank you for sharing your site and best wishes....

Alix said...

I wondered where you were going with that title!

What a great post! It transported me back to my childhood and memories of sled riding down the side hill of my house through several neighbor's yards and eventually into a street below. Likewise, sleds have no breaks, but fortunately for us, snow makes a nice lube under heavy treaded snow boots. Which, if you think about it, was the least of our worries since we were often gliding into the ROAD after a really good push! How we managed to not get run over is no small miracle.

Your post also takes me back to summers of playing Kick The Can and POW Camp and Hide-N-Seek with the neighbor kids well into darkness. It was a nightly ritual through all the seasons. We were safe. It was a wonderful time to be a kid. I feel so fortunate. Thanks for the reminder!

And congratulations on your POTD mention on authorblog. It is well deserved

recipes for the life said...

Congrats on the POTD mention. It was a very nice read. Very nostalgic. And do you know it is still that way at my hometown,a small town in India.

♥ Chaitra

Cheffie-Mom said...

What wonderful memories! Congrats on the Post of the Day Award!

Captain Dumbass said...

I grew up on a hill. If only we'd had pram wheels!

Eternally Distracted said...

I think I had the exact same pram! I always used the brakes trick when I was told I couldn't get new shoes ... It worked a treat every time!! I think if someone had given us a playstation all those years ago the pram would've still been our choice.

James Oh said...

Thank you for sharing such a sweet good old days and It brings back so many memories. Teresa.

Cathy Gatland said...

Teresa, I would wish a childhood like this for every child on earth - they are really deprived! We lived on a hill for a few years and kids rode down it on everything from homemade skateboards and go-carts to an old hospital-bed frame. Such happy times.

Michelle said...

Beautifully said...your writings are such a treat!

Brian Miller said...

what a wonderful post. it brought back great childhood memories of our go cart building. congrats on the POTD mention.

twincedar said...

Yes, things were different when we were young. We used to go out in the neighborhood and play all day until our mother called us in at dusk. Now, you can't let your children out of your sight because of the way the world it.

Victor Errington said...

Hi Teresa. Sorry, but I`m not one for long stories, so this is short
and sweet. You have certainly sent my mind back as far as 70yrs, yes it could be that far back, and I did everything that you mentioned and probably more, and it was fantastic. As I`m writing this comment, a lump is forming in my throat at the memories. Thank you for bringing them back to me. Love your site. Glad that you found me on Joans Blog. All the best Teresa.
Vic.

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