From my first awareness of the hill, climbing it had always been a necessary evil. That did not keep me from cursing it, however. You can accept something as necessary yet still regret its necessity.
I ran away from home at the age of four and made it half way down southwest side of the hill before my mother caught up with me and spanked me in a neighbor's yard. Then with indignity surrounding me I was forced to walk up the hill again.
It soon became clear that both “up” and “down” were firmly wedded to each other and there was no escape.
My last ride down the steep side of the hill was invigorating however. And each step uphill brought me closer to telling a rapidly developing tale of death and destruction. With so much to look forward to I was able to forget the drudgery and toil of the trip up the hill.
There is really nothing better than to have a story to tell.
Many times my stories were simply encapsulations of movies I had just seen. Though such tales offered many opportunities I always felt stifled by the need to report the truth.
“ And then this giant claw came out of the water and I guess the bird thing died and that was the end. ”
But a story of such daring and recklessness, that I now possessed, was gold and nothing less.
Blood and pain are well worth the price when stardom is the payoff.
Covered in grass stains, I slowly made my way back to the top.
In case someone saw me, my steps were twice as painful and dramatic as they had to be.
What was this persistent discontent that was with me as I went “up the hill”?
It first made itself known to me by way of a gift, which arrived at the train station.
The Fort Worth train station was by far the biggest building I had ever seen. It swallowed us up for years as we repeated the trek my Grandmother made from Arkansas to Texas and back again. The days of trains were over even then, but we were on the cusp and we watched wide eyed as travel by rail dwindled to nothing.
The vast churchlike sanctuary of the station echoed with its emptiness and the train station must have lived on as a memory for those who knew it before the war. For us, however, it was an unknown ghost.
Helping Grandma settle in for the journey home was a ritual of spiritual significance.
The cold water in the flimsy conical cups was always dispensed from the same place in every train car, and that was our first stop. On a good day I could destroy 22 paper cups in 5 minutes and leave them strewn from one end of the train to the other.
Taffy or chocolate candy completed our Eucharist and it too was parceled out throughout the train…..preferably on the clean seats.
As all three of us went about spilling water and noisily running up and down the train in order to say our goodbyes. The passengers that were closest to my Grandmother got up and left so that she was always left alone as we disembarked and climbed down the steps. We would then wave “by-by” to a singular figure sitting next to the window.
Picking up the crate at the train station was a signature event. It took four men to load it into the green station wagon. Anticipation had been building for a week or more.
We had some idea of what was to come but many pertinent details were kept a secret.
Noise and fanfare arose as we drove up to the house with the thing that Uncle Dick had built in the back. It was quite secure in its crate, awaiting its release.
Once out of the crate we could clearly see it at last:
a car!….a yellow wooden car!
We were told that Uncle Dick could build anything and this car proved it!
Uncle Dick lived on a farm in Arkansas, My mother had grown up on that farm and every year we would go out for a visit. A combination Shangri-La, Mecca, and Deep South small town utopia, the farm was a self-contained haven, ripe for children like us.
Among the many delights of the place was a mysterious shop building, inhabited by broken farm machinery and tools, where Uncle Dick could build things in his spare time….things like the car.
Across the car’s bright yellow paint, black stripes meandered forcefully, giving it a decidedly “tigerish” persona. It had a real steering wheel that worked, red wheels, and Uncle Dick had attached a lot of miscellaneous junk to it (all painted yellow of course).
“ That must be a motor,” I said hopefully as I observed some cast-off electrical part that was screwed to the side of the vehicle.
Sadly, it was not a motor…… at least not a real one that worked.
It must have had brakes (no adult would build a kid’s vehicle without brakes) but in what must have been the beginning of my lifelong discomfit with brakes, I do not remember ever using them.
The uncrating of the car brought out kids from 3 blocks away. The crowd anxiously awaited the first trip down the hill.
At that point in my life the easy side of the hill was all that we seriously contemplated.
Once underway the car lumbered along, gradually picking up speed until a mild sensation of pleasure arose in the driver.
Once pleasure was achieved however, the whole thing slowed down gradually until the bright tigerish car ground to a squeaky halt.
The first day was glorious. There were kids all over the place. They ran along side as the thing swooped down the hill. Then when it was time to push it back up there was plenty of help. Cooperation was the name of the game. Perhaps Sunday school had done some good as we all took turns pushing. If you got tired someone else took over.
The car WAS heavy. What did Uncle Dick use when he built this thing? Underneath those layers of yellow and black paint some of the heaviest wood known to man was fastened together with what must have been 80 to 100 lbs of nails. Somewhere under all that was a metal chassis, that came from a farm tractor or something. Throw all the neat junk on top of that and the car probably weighed over a million pounds.
But even so all went well on the first day……….until the labor force started to go home.
Toward the end of the day we were down to maybe 5 kids.
At that point the car got a whole lot heavier.
The next day things got progressively worse.
The labor force started small and dwindled at a remarkable rate.
Soon it was just Bobby and I. Bobby was my next-door neighbor …he was a few years younger than I and I was usually able to con him into whatever I wanted.
After a while however, even he played out.
Left alone I got to where I would painfully push the car about a quarter of the way up the hill then turn it around for a truncated ride down.
It was the minimal amount of thrill possible and even so the push up the hill was waiting no matter what.
I remember sitting in that yellow and black car at the bottom of the hill bitterly cursing my misfortune.
Uncle Dick had forgotten the cardinal rule:
Work is not fun.
The beautiful yellow and black car was soon abandoned in the back yard. It had held such promise when I first saw it. As it rested in the back of the green station wagon I had convinced myself that is would bring nothing but joy. How can such wonderful dreams and aspirations achieve such meager results? It is as if nothing in our waking life can compete with the power of our dreams. Life simply does not measure up to our high expectations and gravity will win in the end. Damn!
As the years passed it became clear that Uncle Dick’s car was the predecessor to a long list of similar disappointments.
Try as I would I could not diminish the discontent that was always near by.
And while I have yet to abandon the in-exhaustible search for the easy ride down, and while at times I can still be coaxed or conned into pushing something heavy up a hill; mostly I can be found sitting in a yellow and black car at the bottom of a hill…… cursing the misfortune of that gift which I have already received…… and dreaming of another that has yet to come my way.