By Charles Towne
My wish is that you should, at least once in your life, roll down a very long hill inside a very big tire. It is a most exhilarating experience and one you will not soon forget.
I must have been four or five years old when my father hung a car tire from a branch of the big walnut tree in our back yard. The first time that I swung in the tire swing I fell out backwards and smacked my head on the ground. (After much practice, I was able to bring this graceful maneuver to a very fine degree of perfection, sometimes even doing it while running, walking, or just standing still.) Naturally when I fell out of the tire swing, my graceful backward movement propelled the tire swing away from me. I lay there on the ground trying to figure out what had just happened, and when I lifted my head to see what the tire swing was doing I was just in time for it to viciously swing back and karate-kick me in the face, bloodying my nose!
Another time I was just sitting in the tire swing minding my own business when that diabolical tire started spinning on the end of its rope. I now understand that this was an arbitrary and malicious act on the part of the tire. It didn’t spin before I got in it and it stopped spinning when I got out of it, so you tell me – did the tire do what it did on purpose? Certainly it did! I only escaped the deadly embrace of the tire swing by releasing my grip and performing, to near perfection, my classic falling-out-backward-and-bumping-my-head-on-the-ground maneuver.
My friends (I think that is what they call them… yes, I am sure that is what they were called…), four of my buddies… chums… pals… friends… showed up for some “harmless boyhood fun”… which roughly translated means, if no one is killed, it is “harmless boyhood fun.” My father had just recently traded for two used tires for the Farmall tractor. The tires were leaning against the barn in wicked repose waiting in diabolical patience for their installation on the tractor, or for a small boy to attack, whichever happened to come first. One of my “friends” said, “I wonder how fast a tire, as big as one of those, could roll down a real long hill with five boys in it?”
I am not sure who it was that suggested this, but in retrospect it just might have been the tire using some form of telepathy.
There was only one way we were ever going to know just how fast one of those tires could roll down a hill with five boys in it. Thus, we began rolling one of the tires toward, THE HILL OF DOOM! Across the river and up the steep hill to the railroad tracks, then down the railroad tracks to the biggest, baddest, boy-eatingest hill ever. Hence is why we called it, The Hill of Doom!! It was a zillion feet long. This was where all the neighborhood kids came in the winter to go coasting with their sleds. This was the Matterhorn of our existence. Our own Mt. Everest. Up Heron’s Hill we labored, rolling that big tractor tire.
There is an interesting phenomenon known as the “work, bad / play, good” principle that comes into effect here. If you tell five boys to take a huge tire to the top of the hill it is unlikely it will ever arrive. Such an endeavor would be considered work. But then, we weren’t working, we were playing! Five boys struggling mightily onward and upward with a tractor tire that towered over our heads.
Soon we reached our goal way up there at the top of the hill. Below us, the grass-covered slope of the hill stretched into the distance. At the base of the hill, just up the tiniest rise, were the tracks of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad. Beyond the railroad tracks, there was another steep hill. This hill was covered with sumac and thorny raspberry bushes, small saplings, as well as scrub oak trees. And then there was the river. That was an awful long way to the river, but we didn’t have to worry about that; no WAY was the tire ever going to go THAT far!
Alas, we soon learned that only one lucky individual was going to be able to ride the tire at a time. This was due to the fact that it took four of us to hold it upright and send it into its launch phase.
The decision was unanimous, minus one; since the tire belonged to my father, the first ride should be mine. Oh lucky me!
My buddies held the tire upright while I somewhat reluctantly climbed aboard. Now, I only did this because they assured me that they wouldn’t move the tire, not even a little bit, unless I said it was O.K…. and with that sort of reassurance how could I go wrong?
Being somewhat of a runt I was able to lie down completely inside the tire, on my back, with my arms folded across my chest. (You probably will note the close similarity of a corpse in a coffin.) As I lay down in the tire I had a distinctly uncomfortable feeling, like that of a vague memory of nose bleeds and a vicious tire swing, creeping unbidden back into my consciousness. “No way baby! Let me out of here!”
With an exceptional amount of enthusiasm my faithful buddies began rolling the tire. I shouted for them to stop. I begged them to stop, but they all seemed to have lost their hearing. I’m not sure but it must have been some sort of temporary epidemic. I tried to execute my old reliable, ‘falling out backward and bumping my head on the ground’ maneuver, but hands seemed to mysteriously come out of nowhere to push me back inside the tire. Then it was too late, the tire seized control!
First I was up, and then I was down; up, down, up, down, around and around and around! I now knew what it must be like to take a ride in a washing machine or a cement mixer! Faster and faster the tire rolled, and then, strange as it may seem, I no longer could I tell the difference between up or down.
The guys ran alongside for a short distance shouting encouragement, but soon the tire outdistanced them. I would like to say that they were shouting encouragement to me but I distinctly heard them shouting, “Go tire, Go!” And, “Yaaay, tire!”
Then it was just me and the demon tire.
Faster and faster, around and around, down the hill we raced! “Argghhhhh! Noooo mooore! Umph, MAMAAAA!!! Somebodeeee Pleeeeze STOP THE TIIIERRRRE!”
I bet you thought all that moaning and screaming was coming from my faithful pals who were bringing up the rear, but not so. All of that screaming was coming from the tire, or more accurately, from the boy inside the tire.
I tried to escape, but I couldn’t move. A mysterious thing heretofore unknown to me, called “centrifugal force,” kept me glued in the bowels of the tire. It is a very interesting perspective that you get from the inside of a tire that is rolling down a hill at a high rate of speed. The effect is reminiscent of Salvadore Dali’s surrealist period – the best was yet ahead!
It is very interesting how somethings sort of slip your memory, failing to reveal themselves until it is too late to change your mind. So it was with the ski jump. “Planning ahead” was something we rarely did, but the previous summer we had shoveled up quite a large pile of dirt in the middle of Heron’s Hill. This was to serve as a ski jump for the next winter, even though no one owned skis. A lot of kids were thrilled to sail over our ski jump on their sleds resulting in more than a few smashed sleds, and lots of real neat bloody noses.
WOW! How much fun can you have?
With a typical disregard for details – a malady that plagues me to this day – I had completely forgotten the ski jump. A very interesting phenomenon results when you combine, #1 – a huge tractor tire which is speeding out of control down a very long hill, with #2 – inside the tire that is speeding down the hill is a small boy, and #3 – in the middle of the very long hill waiting for the tire that contains the small boy is a three foot tall pile of dirt some idiots piled there to serve as a ski jump when nobody owned skis.
I believe you are beginning to get the picture.
Let me elaborate a little more.
One huge insensitive tractor tire containing one small, cringing, screaming boy, plus one long steep hill, plus one three foot tall ski jump; these components are converging at a speed in excess of mach-10, or whatever is faster. This equation equals, at point of impact, enough energy to propel the runaway tire containing it’s innocent boy-victim into a ten foot high orbit of trajectory! The term, “We have achieved launch!” meant something to me long before the rest of the country ever dreamed of the expression.
As an aside, all of this was to teach me another law – the law of diminishing returns. The way this relates to my case is the chance of my returning was diminishing more by the second.
And then there is that other law which states that “for every action there is an equal or greater reaction”… which, simply put in my case, resulted in another law called “gravity” which states, “that which goes up must come down.”
The tire went up, up, up!
The tire came down, down, down!
With me in it!
But my journey was not to cease for lack of will. Joyfully, most of the hill was yet ahead! (Who the heck said “joyfully”? There was that darned tire telepathy thing again!)
Forever onward, undaunted, raced the rampaging tire. Shrieking and thumping over the railroad tracks; leaping and wailing down the riverbank; screaming and crashing through a small stand of scrub oak, sumac and thorny raspberry bushes.
“Such a journey should not end, it should go on forever!”
That was the tire expressing its feelings again. It wasn’t me.
The tire struggled forward valiantly, resisting the inevitable, and finally ended its journey about twenty feet out in the river in knee deep water. There it fell to its side, gasped a few last breaths, and died.
I am not ashamed to admit that not a bit of that screaming, shrieking, and wailing you heard earlier was coming from the tire, and I will not even mention the whimpering and whining.
As I extricated myself from the still, warm carcass of the dead tire, Jack, Dave, Pokey, and Dootsie Bobo came wading out into the river to rescue me. Dripping wet, I raised myself unsteadily to my hind feet – said action supposedly separating man from the lowly, less intelligent beasts… but then, I have not seen any of those lowly, less intelligent beasts rolling down real long hills in tires.
At a time like that you’ve got to be cool.
I grinned at my buddies. At least it was intended to be a grin. It turned out to be a grimace of relief, the intensity of which was not lost on my buddies. I did my best to convince the guys that the ride was great fun… but they weren’t having any of it, probably partly due to the sound of my screams still ringing in their ears and that grimace which was still glued to my face.
It was about the time that I was trying to convince the guys to take a ride in the tire when each of them remembered that they had chores to take care of at home.
Soon, very soon, the tire was restored to its resting place against the barn alongside its mate, and my four buddies made their departure. I am not sure, but I believe they had exceeded their excitement quota for the day.
After they left I wandered out by myself and stood staring at the tire. That it had tried to do me in was, without a doubt, the case, and I was mad. I forgot everything. I even forgot my fear. I walked up and kicked that tire as hard as I could, and then I realized that I had forgotten something else; I was barefooted. It took about two months for my broken toe to heal, and a little longer then that for my grimace to completely disappear.
For a while that grimace had my folks really worried. It would have given me a great deal of satisfaction to see each of my buddies take that long ride, but looking back, I’m glad it was me. After all, it was sort of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. My wish remains that you should, at least once in your life, roll down a very long hill in a very big tire. It’s a real thrill, and not something you’re going to forget right away!
Dear friend God, praise you for preserving my life through all my adventures as a small boy, and since. Thank you for being with me today. Lord, inspire me to live life with an exuberance and excitement full of zest. Help me to take chances. Help me to experience life – to realize that there are still days, weeks, months and years ahead of me, and they will all be full of joy because they will be with you. Let me have fun learning to know you better. I praise you, and I sing a new song of your love for me. Praise you oh Holy One. In Jesus’ beautiful name I ask all of this, Amen.
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.