Dad’s shout echoed through the neighborhood. Sharp. Loud. Angry. My older brother’s entire name. All three words. His thirteen-year-old face drained of color.
“You’re in trouble,” I taunted. “You’re in trouble.”
The shout again. This time, my name. My entire name.
“What did you do?” he hissed at me.
“Nothing. I swear.”
“So why is he yelling for us?”
“I don’t know.”
We looked at our friends, our games in the creek at the edge of the neighborhood forgotten. Pals who walked to and from school together. Protected each other from bullies from other neighborhoods. Had each other’s backs.
Except from angry parents. For that, we were on our own.
We righted our bicycles from the dirt and pedaled home, clueless of our crime. My brother, bigger and stronger by four years, could outrace me, but not today. Neither of us wanted to arrive first.
Our neighborhood was comprised of 52 houses occupied by young families with kids. All but eight of those houses were on a loop road that formed a giant circle. The remaining eight sat in the middle of that loop on the sole road with a cul-de-sac. Our house was on that cul-de-sac, the epicenter of the neighborhood.
That large circle of pavement was the focal point of the neighborhood kids’ social world, perfect for any game we invented. Earlier that day, the game was “How far can you ramp?”
Using a handful of nails, we crafted a make-shift ramp out of scrap lumber and a piece of thick plywood. Those finds had been in dad’s workshop, so was that the crime? Had we put away his tools? If so, the result would be a lecture, not the dreaded three name bellow across the world.
The game was simple. Starting at the top of our driveway, before the nerve escaped, pedal as fast as you can down the driveway, into the street, and onto the cobbled ramp. The kid with the longest distance in the air won, provided he met the all-important rule of not crashing upon landing.
Crash landings disqualified a contestant, though spectacular wipeouts were applauded. Everyone can claim NASCAR is all about the race, but don’t you watch the crashes over and over in slow motion?
Each neighborhood kid took his turn. Arguments ensued. Where did a wheel first touch? Who spent the most airborne time? Did height matter, or only distance? Was a perfect landing more valuable than a stumble? Bonus points for style? The ever changing rules of kids’ games.
We went again and again, confidence and distance growing with each round. The landings became more perilous. The crashes more spectacular and bloody.
Beaten and bruised, we tired of the game. Our attention wandered. We rode our bikes to the creek, leaving the ramp in the middle of the road.
Was that our crime? Leaving the ramp in the road? Blocking his access to the driveway? Lecture? Yes. Three name condemnation? No.
While we played in the creek, Dad returned to the neighborhood from his workday. Turning onto our street, he spied the wooden ramp and suspected our involvement. He shook his head at our forgetfulness.
At the top of our driveway, he noted much worse. Our sister. Our four-year-old sister. Determined look on her face. On her bicycle. Training wheels balanced.
As a kid, age differences are challenging. My brother and his friends rarely allowed his nine-year-old kid brother and pals to hang out with them. On rare days like today, the rules relaxed.
But a four-year-old sister? Not happening.
Not that she couldn’t keep up. She has always been tough. Could take pain better than anyone.
Many years later, as a professional ballerina, she called me before a performance. By accident of conversation, she revealed that she had broken toes earlier in the week.
“That’s awful,” I said. “Hate for you to miss your performances.”
“Miss? Why would I miss?” she replied.
Battered, bruised and bloodied dancer feet are not for the fainthearted. But the thought of performing on broken toes? In pointe shoes? On her toes? On her broken toes? I almost fainted at the mere thought. She never considered skipping a performance for mere broken bones.
No, don’t say my sister can’t keep up. But on this day, she was four. Too little to follow us to the creek.
And we were nine and thirteen. Too cool to let a little sister get in our way.
Undeterred, she copied us. By launching her bicycle, training wheels and all, through the air.
With my stunned father as her witness.
She pedaled down the driveway, little legs pumping hard. She leaned over the handlebars, hair blowing in the wind. Rocketed into the street. Across the asphalt. To the ramp. And up. Lifted into the air. All four wheels off the ground. Flying. A grin spread across her little face.
Dad gripped the steering wheel and watched his baby daughter sail through the air, high above the unyielding road. She hit the top of the arc and descended. Toward the hard pavement, scarred by earlier bike wipeouts by older boys. Approached asphalt stained with those boys’ blood. Closer to disaster.
Tires hit the ground. The bike wobbled. She fought the handlebars. Tilted and careened. Through sheer determination, she kept the bike upright. Raced around the circle and back up the driveway, determined to do it again.
Dad inched the car to the end of the road, his heart pounding. He stepped out of the car, picked up the ramp, and eyed our handiwork.
And shouted our names. All three words of our names.