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.