I never wore a watch–I never needed one to know the days were too short. Home from school at 4:00, drop the backpack, grab my boots, off into the snow, and then home again by 6:00 for dinner. Dark was easy to tell. 6:00 was not. So: home by dark. It’s hard to say how we passed those days on winter’s cold and windy plains. Days in the wintertime are much shorter, and last only as long as the free time between school and dinner. Nevertheless, we filled them. Snowball fights. Bumper pool in Brent’s basement. Super Nintendo in Nic’s. Hot chocolate. Other culinary disasters. Compared to the long, languid days of summer, winter days were never long enough. Not that we cared; I had my excuses down well: “we were outside, Dad, and didn’t have a clock,” or “we were inside, Mom, and I couldn’t see that it was getting dark.” They seldom worked.
In the dead of winter, however, dark only meant “6:00 is coming;” that’s when I got trouble. “Be home at 6:00,” they said, and when I came home they said “It’s 6:15, It’s 6:25, It’s 6:40.” “You’re grounded, grounded, grounded.” But how could parents understand that, for a boy of eleven years, there is no 6:00– only daylight and dark, and the timeless ecstasy of being eleven–an ecstasy that doesn’t understand “be home by 6:00.”
Brent had a motorcycle–an orange, 50cc Rockwell. His dad had brought home the summer before, to our incomparable elation. It had a two-Stroke engine, (25:1 gas/oil ratio) and the three of us loved it infinitely when it ran and hated it infinitely when it refused; I owe that bike everything I know about carburetors and spark plugs and transmissions and mufflers and… but I digress.
It was one of those rare times in Cheyenne when snow covered the ground in the very sort of manner that is perfect sledding. My neighborhood was short on sled-worthy hills, but we didn’t care. Who needs a hill when you have a motorbike? By the time we had coaxed the little engine into sputtering to life, it was already dark. But we didn’t care. Who needs the sun when you have halogen porch lights? So, by the light of two motion-activated flood lights, I found myself sitting in a sled tied to the back of Brent’s motorcycle. And we were off. Oh, what a rush! Brent drove first; I hunkered down in the little orange sled as the snow-covered ground went shooting by underneath. Going straight was easy enough until you hit a big bump, but to stay in the sled … that was quite a trick. I was suffused in the cloud of snow following the bike; I couldn’t see anything. But I didn’t care! Sooner than I wanted, it was Brent’s turn, and I took over as driver. And then it was my turn again. Then Brent’s.
I knew that it must be getting near 6:00. We took our last rides, and pushed the motorcycle, sled still attached, into the shed. I walked back–across Brent’s dark field, across my dark field–and in my back door. Time operates differently when filled with new discovery and excitement, and when I walked in the door (in from the dark) 6:00 had long come and gone. Maybe it was 6:15 or 6:45–the clock on the wall said “you’re grounded.” But something stopped Mr. & Mrs. You’re Grounded from their typical pronouncement. Instead, they just looked at me wonderingly, and asked “what happened to you?” After pulling my boots off, I was sent to the bathroom. In the mirror, I found myself covered with little spots of black, head to toe.
Since Brent’s motorcycle had a two-stroke engine, we would ineptly mix the gas and oil ourselves (guess work at the very best). The oil-rich mixture resulted in plumes of oily, black smoke spewing from the back of the little motorbike wherever we rode it, not that we cared. I doubt it ever crossed our minds that we were using too much oil. What I discovered, while looking at myself in the mirror, was that not all of the extra oil burned. As a matter of fact, a lot of the oil was shot straight out the back of the tailpipe, onto whatever was behind it. And what had been behind it for the last two hours? A rope attached to a boy-filled sled, quickly becoming human canvases of a masterpiece of modern art.
Amused with this discovery, I cleaned myself up. My mother fussed over my oil-stained coat. I learned my lesson, though. When Brent and excitedly pulled the bike out of the shed, we found for ourselves a new, and much longer rope. Did it stop us from getting covered in oil? No. But did we care? Of course not.