Do you remember the kid’s poem about “Jack and Jill”? I remember a similar thing that happened back in the ’30s. Yep, I was a kid back then, but my memory is still good enough to recollect an incident that happened one afternoon which involved a boy and a girl going up a hill and back down it. Even though it wasn’t about fetching a pail of water, it does include a girl and some tumbling.
Our farm was located a quarter of a mile from the foot of the biggest hill in the area. In Florida, being the biggest hill in the area doesn’t mean a whole lot, but this one was at a place where Florida’s Central Ridge dropped off to the flatlands, so it was about a 60 foot or so drop in maybe 300 feet. Now that figures to be about a 20% grade, and that’s a steep enough slope for Jack and Jill to get hurt on, if they were to come tumbling down it.
There were very few cars or trucks on the road back then — three vehicles an hour was maybe average — and cars and trucks were pretty noisy so you could hear one coming over the hills to the west when they were two miles away. Looking out on the flat stretch of road to the east you could see all the way to the horizon, however far that was, so we didn’t worry about traffic sneaking up on us from that direction.
I was about 8 years old, and I had one of those little scooters with a tall handle to steer it, a rickety seat you could sit on, and a brake that was a curved piece of metal you pushed on with your heel. Doing that shoved the metal against the back wheel to slow you down. I don’t feel I’m wrong in saying that brake system wouldn’t be approved by today’s Consumer Products Safety Commission, and definitely not by the DOT. It worked real good on flat ground, but on that hill, you pretty much had to just hold on tight, keep ‘er running straight and forget about the brake. I’d made the downhill run from about half way up the hill three or four times. With even that short a run I figure I hit maybe 25 miles an hour. Sitting on the rickety little seat that perched on two shaky little metal legs, 25 was just about way too fast.
One day I told my mother I was going to ride my scooter up to the hill and make a downhill run or two. My sister, who was three years older than me (She still is, too, after all this time!), wanted to ride down the hill too. I told her it was my scooter and she was too big for it, but as usual I got talked into her going with me. So, up the hard road we went, me kickin’ along on the scooter and Gloria yellin’ at me to let her ride. Well, she had said she wanted to ride down the hill, not ride to the hill, so I figured that just wasn’t part of the deal.
As best I recall, I said I’d take the first downhill run “to show you how to do it.” After the ride down I pushed back up the 200 or so feet and it was her turn. I told her again that I thought she was too big to ride it, but as usual she said “anything you can do, I can do.” So she kicked that scooter up to maybe 5 miles an hour, put both feet on the floorboard and sat down on the seat. Things went real good up to maybe 20 miles an hour – just fast enough for that scooter to shimmy a little, and that rickety seat start to sway sideways.
Now this is where the “Jack and Jill” part comes in, The scooter shimmied into a sharp left turn, but Gloria didn’t. You no doubt recall the part where “Jill came tumbling after.” Well there wasn’t anything for Gloria to come tumbling after, because that scooter was already headed into the bushes, but tumble down that hill she did! She was skinned up, shook up and – yep – for some reason, mad at me!
When we got home, mother didn’t plaster her wounds “with vinegar and brown paper,” but she sure used up a lot of mercurochrome, gauze and adhesive tape. Do you remember that red mercurochrome? Probably didn’t burn near as much as vinegar would have, but Gloria made it sound like it did.