Author's Foreword: The activities detailed in the following stories took place in the foolishness of childhood and youth and without the consent or knowledge of any mothers involved, especially mine. Please do not attempt these stunts at home or blame our collective mothers for our inventive lunacy.
I lurched forward in the rusty, copper-colored seat and sucked in a faceful of hot, August air. Estimated I was going 90 miles per hour, but it was probably more like 25. My body was very small and time and space had a different effect on it then. The monstrosity I was perched precariously atop seemed like a hulking Panzer tank to my underdeveloped sense of perception, rather than the simple single-seater farm carriage it actually was.
"Mush!" I cried.
"Mush!" It seemed to bear repeating, even though I was not sure of the significance or origin of the word. I had, at that moment, the distinct and dubious honor of "holding the reins," (Even though there really weren't any, thank goodness; someone may have been really hurt then) of an eager team of cousins and sisters who were pulling me down a pothole checkered dirt driveway that was a minefield of potential bodily harm. I could hear the Killdeer in distant meadows and smell freshly cut grass from across the fields. I could see the swaybacked pony feeding peacefully under the green apple tree and I felt a strange sense of peace, even though I was certain that I was about to die.
It was a great way for six young cousins to pass time; endlessly tow each other up and down that great dirt driveway until we got bored or someone got hurt, whichever came first.
I could feel my chariot begin to tremble as we hit the fabled "rough spot."
"Slow down!" I protested feebly, squeezing the seat tighter.
"More speed!" came the giggly command from the leader of the team, who was the real controller of operations, despite my position of stature. I could feel panic rising in my bony chest. Why was my trusted team speeding up over the rough spot? What did they have against me? My childish mind could not fathom such things back then, although it is apparent to me now that my sisters and cousins were conspired to kill me back in those seemingly carefree, idyllic days of childhood.
I considered bailing out, but was very intimidated by the unforgiving terrain of the road beneath me. I decided to try and appeal to their common sensibilities.
"C'mon, you guys, slow down, willya?" There came a ripple of laughter through the team, and the rusty carriage picked up speed. I could see the mailbox now and I knew my tormentors would have to either relent or push me into the intersecting road. They wouldn't be that bloodthirsty, would they?
Then came a calling from the direction of the house.
It was pure Deus Ex Machina, or more precisely, Aunt Gertrude putting the kibosh on the whole operation and saving my sunburned neck one more time. It is small wonder that I hold my Aunt Gertrude in such high esteem to this day, since she saved my life many times before I was nine. One skinny first grade boy against five older (and slightly homicidal) girls was hardly fair, after all. Aunt Gert would have to act as my rescuer more than once in my many tours of duty done on her little farm, only yards away from where the Dustin Family met their unfortunate end at the hands of the Sioux so long ago. It was my privilege to grow up there, at least part time, and experience what a person must experience to really understand what Mark Twain is talking about in his books. Oh yes, and it also was my privilege to experience true terror there, for the first time in my fragile, young life, and then many times to follow.
I climbed down from the captain's seat and vowed silently through trembling lips that I would never ask to be the driver again.
"You were trying to kill me!" I confronted my torturers.
"No we weren't, Dougie. The wagon goes faster when you're the rider 'cos you're so much lighter!" countered Cousin Melanie, the leader of the conspiracy against me. Her co-conspirators all found this very amusing, and regaled like a shanty full of intoxicated parrots.
"Can I do it again?" I asked, holding my hand over my eyes to block the summer sun.