Go Carts

A set of powered wheels is something that most boys dream about. He thinks of ways to power his bicycle, perhaps with a weed-eater motor. He numbers the days until he can get his learner’s permit and start driving. “You don’t need a license to drive.” My dad used to say. “You need a car.” Although I got plenty of driving time in the hayfield, it was still work. There was no freedom. My Dad eventually got Zach and me a riding lawnmower, but we were unappreciative. What we wanted was a go cart.

Jared and Creed had a blue one. Creed, unsatisfied with the lack of speed recommended by the manufacturer, was smart enough to remove the governor which made the go cart dangerous enough to be really interesting. Due to a combination of rough terrain and hard driving, their go cart was frequently out of commission, and more frequently out of fuel. When it was operational we would race wide open around the perimeter of Mr. McDaniel’s property, getting slapped by the briars and brush that had obstinately sprouted since the last time the land was cleared. We would ride it until someone wrecked it, or we ran out of fuel. There was only room for two, one steering and one holding on for dear life. The other two stood and waited impatiently for their turn, hoping that the fuel would hold out and the cart would come back in one piece.

Uncle Tony offered Zach and I the deal of a century, $50 for a faded red go-cart with a fighter pilot steering wheel and a dirt dobber nest in the engine. We went in 50/50 at $25 a piece. We loaded her up in the back of Dad’s truck and stopped by the BP to fill up the tires and the fuel tank on our new rattle trap go cart. We couldn’t wait to get home and give her a spin. Somehow I got to drive the go cart first. We pulled the starting cord and the old engine coughed out grey smoke. I climbed into the driver’s seat and gripped the steering wheel, this was living. I gunned the cart down the hill and toward the cemetery. I reached the agreed upon turnaround point and whipped the little racer around without giving much thought to traffic, which was virtually nonexistent on the cemetery road. As I began up the hill the engine begin to whine, then choke and sputter, I was losing power. My brother was waving his hands frantically and running toward me. I couldn’t hear him over the unmuffled roar of the malfunctioning engine, I pushed the accelerator all the way to the floor. By the time that Zach reached me the engine died and I slowly started to slide backward down the hill. We pushed the disabled go cart up the hill to give Zach a turn. The go cart started up, but wouldn’t budge. I had burned out the clutch before Zach ever got a chance to ride it.

We ended selling it to a man in our church for about what we paid for it. I don’t know if he felt sorry for us, or just wanted to fix it up. I really didn’t think about go carts again until I was grown, and only then because one of the kids in my youth group got a brand new one. It had a roll cage on it. I thought that was neat, but I bet Creed would have figured out how to remove it to reduce drag. The excitement of driving a vehicle without a license was missing once driving became a chore. I guess some things are meant to stay in your childhood, and go carts was one of them.

I got a phone call from my Dad around that same time. He had just seen a two grown men pull up to the red light in the middle of town in a little blue go cart. It was Jared & Creed.

Gun Safety

Zach and I used to beg Dad to let us help “Clean the Guns”, a ritual where we all would crowd around Dad’s closet and he would carefully lubricate and clean each firearm with a tin can 3-In-One oil. “Don’t touch the metal. You’ll get fingerprints all over it.” That’s rule number one of gun safety. I still make a conscious effort to not touch the metal on a gun any time I’m handed one to inspect.

Before he started wiping the firearm down, he would set the stock on his knee with the barrel pointed towards the ceiling, and we would all look at it in wonder. Each gun had a story. “I traded a bird dog in 1970 for this 12 gauge Remington 1100. I’ve killed a few deer and ain’t no telling how many birds with this thing.”

He was also prone to shooting dogs. We lived in an old house that was built on blocks. Before Dad installed underpinning, or had me and Zach install, stray dogs used to get under the house and break the water lines. One time Dad got caught up in the moment and shot under the house. Another time he chased a dog out of the yard for waking him up by barking. Dad had been working late nights and when he came to himself, he was standing out in the front yard in his underwear and work boots, holding shotgun yelling at a dog, at ten o’clock on a Sunday morning. But he didn’t usually tell those stories while we were cleaning the guns.

He would then pass the 1100 to Zach, who would put to his shoulder and aim across the room as if he was getting a lead on a dove. POW, he would say under his breath, letting it reverberate a little bit as if he had shot a bird on a cool still morning in the Alabama wilderness.

“Watch where you’re aiming that thing!” Dad would say as he reached to take the shotgun away from an eight year old boy who had just nearly hit him in the head with a shotgun. “You have act like every gun is loaded.” That was rule number two of gun safety.

Dad would then hand the shotgun to me, who had been waiting impatiently to hold a shotgun that was taller than my brother. When you’re that small, you are doing good just to be able to hold the gun without dropping it, let alone stressing about proper form and aiming. My Uncle Johnny remedied this by sawing about four inches of stock off of a single shot Harrington & Richardson .410. I still remember him bringing it over to our house.

The most mystically firearm in our modest arsenal was Dad’s lever action Marlin .30-30. A genuine cowboy rifle, replete with a gold trigger. Zach & I would work the action from hip, pretending we were Tell Sackett. Dad had shot a deer with this rifle that didn’t quite die. As he was walking toward it, the deer jumped up and began to run by him, Dad leaped off a stump like Tarzan and cut the deer’s throat with a pocket knife. This story added to the mystique of the cowboy rifle.

It didn’t take long to clean oil all the guns, but the ritual of “Cleaning the Guns” also involved looking at all of the pocket knives. Dad bought us a bunch of cheap, made in Pakistan knives because he knew that we would end up losing them anyway. And he was right. I lost a Frost Cutlery Royal Flush at Mrs. Yvonne Clinkscale’s house as I was climbing a tree while my brother endured his piano lesson. I probably climbed thirty feet up into that tree.

I had a Barlow pocket knife that I threw at a tree across the road after church one day. I remember thinking that no one would see me if I went around to the side of the church. Somehow Dad saw me, maybe through one of the six windows. Anyway, he must have witnessed the knife fall about fifteen yards short of the desired target and land in the middle of the road, square on the tip, bending it at a ninety degree angle. Dad sent for me to come see him on the back pew of the church, and he pocketed my Barlow.

The only two knives that I have left from my childhood are the only two that matter to me anyway. Dad bought me a yellow handled Case Slimline Trapper when I was two years old. 

I carried that knife for about fifteen years, before I decided to get a new one.

Uncle Jimmy gave me a red stag handled Case Trapper the year after my grandfather died. He would have been 55 years old. This knife is 55 of 110. Perhaps my first introduction to gun safety was when Dad took me out by the chicken pen and sat up a milk jug full of water as a target. He raised his shotgun, drew a bead on the milk jug and BOOM! The milk jug exploded. I was just barely out of diapers looking with amazement, first at Dad and then to where the milk jug had been. Ever the teacher, Dad said, “This is not a toy.” Wide eyed and unblinking I nodded back at him. This is the principle rule of gun safety.

My cousin Kent could have benefited from a demonstration like that.  When Kent was about seven, his grandfather took him hunting. Kent sat down beside him and they waited for a deer to walk by. Which is the part of hunting that seems the least exciting to me. Perhaps Kent felt the same way because his eyes began to wonder from the field over to his grandpa who was watching and waiting diligently. Then Kent’s eyes wondered to his grandpa’s shotgun, which he held directly in front of him, the barrel directly under the bill of his cap. Then Kent’s eyes wondered to the trigger, which was closer to him as he sat the on the ground. Eventually curiosity got the better of him and he slowly and quietly, sneakily probably is a better word, reached over and pulled the trigger. Booom! I can only imagine his grandpa’s surprise as the shotgun fired, blowing his hat off.

This brings us to the final rule of gun safety, in general, one gun is as dangerous as the next, but some people are far more dangerous than others.