Of family relations and faulty engineering

June 15, 2012 chris
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It was going to be a long summer. At least that’s what I was thinking before the boys of summer showed up. 

By boys of summer I mean my cousins, Virgil and Timothy, of course. As you may recall, they would come to Alabama from Chicago to visit each summer. The previous summer, we tried to fly by jumping off of the roof of our house. It didn’t quite work out as I had planned, but I wasn’t one to give up and apparently neither were my cousins. We were ready for new adventures.

We ate breakfast as fast as grandmom would allow and headed outside. Once outside we stood with the sun on our faces and the grass between our toes. 

I had a full agenda planned, and I was eager to get to it. First, we caught crawfish in the ditch along Borden Avenue. Then we played Tarzan by grabbing as many vines as we possible could and swung from grandmom’s weeping willow tree. We caught frogs and placed them in granddad’s rain barrel. Some girls down the street wanted us to play house, but we declined because they made the worst mud pies. 

“David, don’t you have any idea of something we can do?” Virgil asked. 

You would think that these two guys knew not to ask me that question. 

“You know Virgil, I have been wanting to build a car for a long time,” I replied. 

This idea captured their interest. 

“A car?” 

“Yes, a car.”

“How are you going to build a car?” Virgil asked. 

“Easy. You know, I’m not so sure city living is good for you guys. Don’t they teach ya’ll how to do anything in Chicago?” 

As the cousins looked at me and thought about how to reply, I motioned them over to the garage. I showed them my supplies, but they still failed to understand my plans. I took a stick and drew my plans in the dirt. 

“You see those pieces of wood?”

They nodded. 

“Well, we’re going to take those pieces of wood and make a capital letter ‘I.’” 

Those instructions were clear enough and easy enough to understand. We hammered the pieces into place, happy to see it all coming together. Next, we took some wheels from discarded tricycles and hammered them into place. We took a seat from an old big wheel, placed it off center of the 2×4 and secured it. I used my sister’s jump rope as a steering wheel. We hammered nails into a U-shape as we secured the knotted rope at each end. In order to steer, we used our feet while all pulling on the rope. It was sort of like riding a horse. 

Our car was nearly complete but it lacked one final important piece. I took a stick about the length of a ruler and hammered it into place in front of the seat. I informed my cousins that this addition would serve as the brake. I didn’t know anything about simple machines, but I was a fan of the Flintstones and was sure we had a car that would work.

We stood back and looked over our creation. It looked like something Fat Albert and his gang might have made, but to us it represented a day’s work. And it was beautiful. We pushed our vehicle to the top of Borden’s Hill. 

Now came the moment of truth – who would be the first to test-drive our car? I looked to Timothy, but his mind seemed far away. Perhaps he was thinking about flying off the rooftop last summer. 

That left Virgil, the younger brother. 

“Virgil, I guess it’s you,” I informed him as I handed over the NFL youth-size Green Bay Packer’s helmet.

Virgil climbed in. I explained to him once again how to operate the car. I made sure he knew where the brakes were and how to used them. 

“Check,” Virgil said following each instruction. 

We got behind the car, and with one final push we started Virgil’s journey down the hill. My first realization that something was wrong was the way his body bounced up and down. In those days country paved roads were merely tar over gravel. 

Midway down the hill, Virgil lost his rear tires. He screamed, but we couldn’t help. 

Virgil was going too fast. I should have installed a bed sheet that he could have used it as a parachute (“Perhaps I will on the next car,” I thought). 

By the time Virgil reached the bottom of the hill, the car was in pieces and so were his clothes. We watched in shock at the top of the hill. 

As Virgil started walking back up the hill, he looked like one of those guys from the American Revolution. He was all beaten and hobbled as he made his way back to us. Virgil was carrying something in his hand that I couldn’t quite make out. It was only when he came closer that I realized it was the car’s brake. Virgil limped pass us into the house. It was the second time that day I heard someone scream. 

It was going to be a long summer, after all.