I remember the summer before my fifth birthday, my neighborhood friends racing around on their bikes and scooters, while I desperately tried to keep up with them, galloping about from lawn to lawn. Unfortunately, I was not blessed with wheeled transportation as of yet and the only form of riding fun I possessed was “Mr. Doodles”, my trusty steed. Mr. Doodles was a buck-toothed, cross-eyed, cloth Palomino horse head with a 3-foot long mop handle shoved in his neck. Perched between his floppy ears was a little red felt cowboy hat and around his neck hung a loose fitting blue neckerchief. To complete the western package, I wore a matching red felt cowboy hat and blue neckerchief whenever I rode. While the other kids motored about, making tire skid marks on the sidewalk and mimicking loud engine noises with their mouths, I galloped behind them, mop handle wedged between my legs, making horsey noises. Occasionally, I’d stop and scream out, “Giddeee-yup, Mr. Doodles! Yeeeeehaaaawww!”
At the end of August, on my fifth birthday, my days as an accomplished sidewalk equestrian came to an end when my parents gave me a Big Wheel. Somehow I got the feeling my dad didn’t quite appreciate my mop-back riding skills because as soon as I jumped on my Big Wheel, he put Mr. Doodles out to pasture. He snapped him in 2 over his knee and tossed him in the garbage…my little red, felt hat and neckerchief soon followed.
September 16, 1970…12:13 P.M. A moment in time horrifically etched in my mind forever. As was the schedule for kindergarteners, I finished class by noon everyday. When the dismissal bell rang, I’d bust out the school doors and race home to start tearing up the street with my Big Wheel. However, on that fateful day, I would ride no more. As I approached my house, I could hear an unusual banging sound coming from our patio, accompanied by the all-too familiar mischievous giggle of my little cousin, J.J. I turned the corner and helplessly watched as J.J. repeatedly peddled my Big Wheel toward our back wall and smashed the front wheel into the bricks. By the time I could wrestle him to the ground, the damage was already done. The front fork had been irreparably bent and the plastic wheel was shredded near complete collapse. My Big Wheel was dead. Sensing an ass kicking, J.J. ran home leaving me alone in the yard with no one to take out my frustration. In a fit of sweaty, red-faced rage, I punched wildly in the air, spun in a circle, then climbed a tree and wept. I remained up in the tree, sobbing and mumbling curse words about J.J. until my dad came home, yanked me out of the tree, told me to toughen up and to go clean something.
I couldn’t get my Big Wheel replaced with a new one. It was 1970. Everyone was poor. Money didn’t grow on trees and according to the old man, when he was my age they didn’t have fancy “Big Wheels.”
“We had a single metal roller skate we found at the junkyard,”
(side note: it’s common knowledge in the late forties and early fifties, children regularly played in junk yards as parks and swings had not been invented yet)
“Yeah, the junkyard. We’d each take a turn sitting on that hard metal skate, while somebody else shoved you down a steep hill. Sure, our knees scraped the pavement and got bloodied something awful…but we were tough.”
I knew a replacement was out of the question and if I persisted whining for a new one, a rusty roller skate would be forcefully wedged between my recently spanked butt cheeks followed by a less than delicate nudge down a dangerous stretch of road.
Eventually, my parents replaced my Big Wheel with a used bicycle, a classic Schwinn Phantom, they found at a garage sale for $2.50. I’d like to think they bought me the bike out of love and to vanquish the pain their little boy was suffering, through no fault of his own. Truth be told, the old man couldn’t pass up a bargain and more importantly, he was deathly afraid I might revert back to my western ways and resurrect my kinship with Mr. Doodles.