Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cartwheels

Both of Dad’s carts had wheels, of course. I don’t recall for sure if the smaller cart had automobile wheels but it very likely did. I know for a fact the larger one did. The carts were, in effect, Dad’s rather inelegant pickup trucks. He would push one or the other “up town” and make a circuit of the stores with which he had an agreement to pick up waste paper and cardboard. At home, he separated the paper and cardboard and, when the supply was great enough, pressed it into large bales, tied with baling wire. When enough bales had accumulated, Jacob Tick would send his truck around to get them and Dad was paid at the rate of $5 per ton. It was not particularly good pay but in the late 1930s and early 1940s there were not many ways for an uneducated, and unskilled worker to get good pay.

I have no memory of the carts being bought, or years later, being sold. They were rather like Melchizedek, without beginning or ending. Their appearance suggested that they were amateur constructions, made with large wooden “boxes” mounted on automobile axles with U-shaped handles attached to the box and a single leg-stand extending down from the back of the box to support the cart when it was at rest.

When Dad was not using the carts they provided entertainment for my brothers and I. Donald and I would persuade Marvin, our older brother, to give us wild rides in the smaller one. A half-mile out into the country there was a conveniently steep little hill on a dirt road leading down from a railroad crossing. We would help pull the cart up the hill, and Marvin would guide it down, with us in it, at what seemed a breakneck speed. One day we begged to be allowed to give him a ride down the hill. He was not eager to do that, knowing how much strength it took to keep the cart under control. Donald and I assured him that between the two of us we could do it. As the cart started down the hill one of us, I’ve forgotten which, lost his footing and let go of the handle. Soon the other had to give up too as the cart gained speed. We watched in alarm as the leg-stand snapped off and the cart careened toward a strand of barbed wire that delineated the field beside the road. Marvin managed to flatten himself enough to avoid the full fury of the wire when the cart plunged under it and out into the field. He had some scratches to nurse as we dragged the cart home and attempted to repair the broken leg-stand before Dad discovered it.

The larger cart was too heavy for us to move around the yard or neighborhood, but it was very useful as a place to play. It could be imagined into a western wagon, stage coach, or pickup truck. There was always a lively competition to be the one in the cart and, being the younger brother, I often lost the competition. One day I must have felt the loss particularly keenly. I don’t recall the details leading up to the incident but the consequences have remained with me all my life. Being denied access to the cart, I experience an “uncharacteristic” fit of anger. I picked up a two-pound blacksmith’s hammer that was lying nearby and brought it down with all my force on one of the cart’s pneumatic tires. Instantly I learned Newton’s Law of Motion, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The hammer rebounded striking me just above my right eye, opening a wound that required several stitches to close, and leaving a scar that remains to this day.

Mom had to deal with the gushing blood and get me to the doctor to close the wound. She showed appropriate motherly concern for my injury, but little sympathy for my plight. She knew that a lesson had been learned that would not be enhanced with a scolding, but neither did she wish to diminish its impact by showing too much sympathy.

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