Sometimes you get the breaks; sometimes the brakes get you
For years, I have admitted that I am way behind the times when it comes to keeping up with trends in fashions. Disco was long dead before I bought my first flowery silk shirt, bell-bottom trousers and platform shoes.
Then, the other day, I realized that I was far ahead of my time as a result of my klutzy way of walking and running as a kid. I had holes in my jeans decades before people started to buy their pants with holes in them.
As a kid, I recall very few pairs of pants that did not offer ventilation for my legs. It was a never-ending struggle for my mom, who would darn our pants almost as quickly as my brothers and I would tear them - and the knees beneath.
Mother did so darn much darning that most of my pants looked as though I was wearing knee pads.
This was fine with me, since the modes of transportation available to the guys in my neighborhood made us glad for whatever knee protection we could get.
(I don't think my knees fully healed until after I got my driver's license.)
Some of these injuries may have been due to the footwear available. Our "school" shoes had leather soles, which mean that sharp turns or sudden stops on the playground did not end well.
After-school wear were all-purpose canvas sneakers of two types - high-top and low-top, and two colors - black and white.
These would be worn until: a) the soles were worn through clear to the socks; or b) the sneakers smelled so disgusting that Dad placed them in the burn barrel at the end of the yard.
My first serious injury was sustained when I, between my kindergarten and first grade years, was running around the neighborhood. Somehow, I fell off the curb and my collarbone broke. Back then, the prescribed method for treating that fracture was to strap me into a harness-like contraption with a felt-covered board bracing my upper back.
It gave me a new appreciation of the problems of turtles. If I happened to roll onto my back while sleeping, I had one heck of time getting turned right-side up.
However, the inconvenience of a broken collarbone probably saved me from a series of worse breaks. The doctor said I should avoid roller-skating and ice skating. There is no telling what havoc I would have wreaked upon my body if I had spent any time at all on metal wheels or steel blades.
As it was, my transportation was primarily confined to tricycle and bicycle. Dad had a habit of acquiring things that were heavy-duty - to say the least.
The tricycle he bought at an auction had more metal in it than most vehicles on the road today.
Its solid rubber wheels did not make for a particularly comfortable ride, but it was comforting to know that if I veered into a brick wall, the wall would come out second best to the trike.
Much to my neighbors' relief, I eventually graduated from trike to bike. Actually, I went from three to four wheels before I got down to two.
I don't know who came up with the idea of attaching training wheels to a bicycle, but the guy or lady has my undying gratitude. What a great invention!
There were no problems as I went from my iron trike to a bicycle with the knowledge that the training wheels would keep me and my bike from an unwanted visit to the cement sidewalk.
Many a drunk who has been asked to walk a straight line by police has fervently wished that someone had come up with human training wheels to keep people from tipping over.
The only drawback with training wheels was that they filled me with a misguided sense of self-confidence.
"This is easy. Take those training wheels off and you're really going to see me fly."
Unfortunately, my prophecy came to pass. I flew off the two-wheeler forward, back, left and right.
Of course, this unintentional thrill show occurred back in the days before safety helmets became required wear for youngsters on bikes.
Even if helmets had been around, I wouldn't have worn one. Heck, you risked being called a sissy if you used your brakes too often.
This is unfortunate because my bike, like most of the other kids, was braked by pushing the pedals backwards. These back-pedal brakes were effective, but they caused me a major problem.
My friend Mortimer had gotten what we called an "English racer" bike, which had its brakes activated by squeezing a mechanism on the handlebars.
We pushed our bikes to the top of the steep hill at the end of the block and Mortimer generously let me take the first ride on his bike.
The bike got going at a fast clip, but when I went to slow it down, I back-pedaled instead of using handlebar brake control.
In effect, I became a runaway biker. I don't know how fast I was going when I got to the bottom of the hill, so I was doubly lucky to be able to stop.
The first brake break was that I ran into my little brother driving my old, heavy-duty tricycle. That stopped me instantaneously.
What was the second break? My collarbone. I was lucky that I had kept that harness and brace.
(Walt Kozlowski, a freelance writer from Mount Carmel, composes "Walt's Way" for each Sunday edition.)