Brian’s Column: Speaking of “A Christmas Story”…

2: Previous column, “To  Change a Tire,” unleashes a golden memory or three
Brian R. Wright

[Link to Episode 1]

Note: These columns are a series, I will make into a volume of my memoirs. You may follow the links at top and bottom of page to go to preceding or succeeding episodes. The series starts here. {If the [Link to Episode <next>] at the  bottom of the column does not show an active hyperlink, then the <next> column has yet to be written.}

In that column, I was referring to a rite of passage from boyhood into teenhood, which was the simple act of learning to successfully change out a flat tire on the family car. And I pointed to the scene in A Christmas Story, where Ralphie Parker goes to help his dad to do just that… having a slight misadventure in the process. 🙂 The movie and that funny little sequence conjure up a remembrance of my own nuclear family life in middle America, and one of my very first images…

… where my little brother Forrest, the would- be passenger in the photo right, tries to turn his tricycle into an airplane! It was 1951, or thereabouts. The Wrights had just rented a small flat in Kansas City, as we waited for our home to be built ‘out in the country’ of suburban Overland Park. Dad had been promoted to a sales job for paper products of the Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment (KVP) company, for whom he had worked since coming back from the service (WW2) then graduating from Western Michigan University (go Broncos!).

It occurs to me now that we were well off enough to be able to afford to give both Forrest and me fairly new and modestly appointed tricycles at a young age. [My parents, as many of the aspiring middle class of those days, were Sears & Roebuck mail order fans. Sears typically had three models of everything, from wagons to lawn mowers: 3) the cheap, economy version, 2) the reasonably priced, higher quality, middle of the road option, and 1) the highest priced, bordering on bragging rights, top of the line Sears product. Mom and Dad always bought the #2 model.] On this fateful night I was about 3 1/2 and Bro had just turned 2.

Our flat sat on a rise, with a 25-feet-long concrete walk leading from the front door to a series of steps descending about 3/4 storey to the sidewalk below. Mom would recount, later, how Forrest was never one to stay where he was put for very long; she’d look away for an instant and he’d be gone. And that’s what must have happened this one spring late evening after dinner. I saw the whole thing, you might say, from a front row seat, on my own trike in the yard on my brother’s left—maybe 20 ft., and out of range of any ability to reach him and intercede.

It was totally unexpected, somehow he’d gotten outside and maneuvered his pristine green machine onto the porch, then positioned it at the start of the walkway, where like some top fuel dragster, he just launched toward the street! Nobody could have stopped him. He was fast, too, reaching liftoff speed at the exact moment his front tire crossed the top step. Did he go airborne? Who knows? I’m only 3-something, and my tiny mind has a hard time even registering what just happened. All I know is in a heartbeat my bro has landed in a heap on the sidewalk… is crying… and expelling lots of red liquid from his head.

“Mom!” I call out. But her nanosecond of inattention has lapsed and she’s out the front door in a flash, bounding down to the walk, where I’ve run to as well—definitely not following in Forrest’s trikesteps. The rest of it’s a blur now; I remember she stanches the red flow with a towel and trundles him off to emergency, where he gets a few stitches, leaving a notable scar square in the middle of his forehead for all time. I suppose then she tries to reach Dad who is probably on the road in BFE western Kansas or something. [He was typically out of town two to three nights a week.]

1939 General Electric

Afterward we didn’t really talk about it, life went on, we moved to our new digs in Overland Park; for sure no records were entered in the family photo album. Dad fashioned himself a top notch photo journalist and family-movie maker. He possessed the photo equipment, even a dark room, and the latest (2d best from Sears) 8 mm movie camera and projector. But he also was rather a ‘good news’ sort of fellow: When it came to embarrassing moments or incidents that might reflect poorly on the team—like Forrest’s head banger, or when he and my parents’ family-friends’ menfolk set ablaze the field behind the house with firecrackers, or the time our vintage refrigerator sprung a leak and we had to evacuate—Pop the family record keeper pointed very few lenses in that direction.

Post-Mortem: What could anyone have done?

Forrest during his stint with the AF, Nellis AFB, Nevada. Note the offroad motorcycle. He never took to the cage aspects of military life.

Shortly before my brother’s untimely death at the tender age of 57—this year (2017) it will be 10 years he’s gone on May 7—he and I met for dinner and cocktails at a restaurant in Brighton (Michigan). Casually, I brought up the incident as a reminiscence. Forrest became a bit agitated, claiming that Mom (who was living with me at the time) “should have not let that happen.” More or less saying that her behavior was neglectful. When I mentioned to her the gist of what he said, she exclaimed, “At two years old, he was next to impossible to keep track of continuously. He was always escaping from his crib; he could open doors; I might have put him in a cage but he’d have screamed bloody murder… plus, he’d figure a way out of that, too!”

That’s what I remember, too, though vaguely. Mom’s partial solution, when we were all home together, was to entrust me to keep tabs on him when we played, not let him hurt himself. Even that had its limitations: I have a dim memory, which Mom reinforced, that back at that flat in Kansas City (we lived on the top floor) Forrest and I were going down the outside stairway. I was ahead of him having reached the ground, but he had stopped on the final landing… then just got it into his head to jump from there. Which he did. How can you stop a kid with such immediate fearless impulses?

Plus, having me watch my wild boy brother was like tying a horse to a dog. I was in pretty much constant motion, myself. Though I like to think I was more deliberate and mature, not so whim-oriented as my bro. Shortly after we moved into our new home, I had my own incident of driving a perfectly good vehicle—one of those miniature pedal-powered sheet metal cars—down the base- ment stairs. Without injury. [I was more curious than impulsive: it appeared the car had the ability to descend stairs and I wanted to make sure.] Anyway, you can feel for what my mom, mainly, had to deal with more or less daily on the child development front; fortunately for us she was not a shirker.

Above-right is a photo at the new place, probably before being transported off to church. Mom made most of our clothes. Dad took all the pictures. You’ll note that we kids are ostensibly stationary here, as if we intuitively grasped that the grind of dressing up and going to church were a quid pro quo for being allowed, most of the week, to play and be kids with minimal interference from above.

[Coffee Coaster Column link]

[Link to Episode 3]

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

This post has been read 830 times!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

2 thoughts on “Brian’s Column: Speaking of “A Christmas Story”…

  1. I know, thanks, it’s one of those iconic photos in our family, Mom used it in her Barnes & Noble Nook reader. But I don’t remember what we were thinking, can’t tell if I’m trying to shoo Forrest off the trike or just scratching my ass. 🙂

  2. Nice and warm trip down Memory Lane. You both look as if you have some very serious business to attend to in that first picture on the trike. Much too serious for such cute little tykes. Don’t you wish you could remember what you were thinking at that moment?. I’m sorry Forrest isn’t here to share and enjoy your reminisces.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *