Starting out young, my personality and antics started getting labeled by adults. Mischievous. Curious. Stubborn. Smart-ass. Center of attention. I didn't know what any of those words meant, I just knew I liked to have fun and explore the world--sometimes a little too aggressively. And when I watched an Evel Knievel special as a little fella on TV one night with my folks, I knew what I had to do. I had to jump my Big Wheel off my slide.
Evel was probably my first real 'hero' that I wanted to emulate when I was a kid. I had a pretty good imagination and, like the proverbial cat, my curiosity usually got the better of me. I had two or three brushes with death as a kid, shot an arrow through MY own hand(takes skill), nearly gouged out my left eye, got kicked in the chest by a calf, trampled by a 1500 lb bull, etc. You know, normal boy growing up on the farm kinda stuff(I guess?). But those are stories for another time; this possible life ending event was my first. You always remember your first.
And I definitely remember hauling that Big Wheel up the four rungs of that ladder on my swing-set, as I think it was probably the toughest physical challenge I'd faced at that point. It's like I was training for American Ninja Warrior, little tyke edition. "Here he goes folks, up the first rung. At 3 feet tall and 34 pounds he's one of our smaller competitors. This ladder can be tricky, he's struggling to make that third rung."
Seriously, I dunno how the hell I got that trike up there, all I can say is I was a really determined little dude! So there I was, Big Wheel perched precariously at the apex, wheels slightly overlapping the sides of the slide. I don't remember what I was thinking, because, ya know, I was 4. My memories are mostly just the actual even unfolding. I like to think I was imagining myself with that sweet cape and helmet Evel wore, but Big Wheel morphing into a powerful Harley-Davidson.
My swing set was about 150 feet from our house, down a long hill--which was awesome for spectacular crashes in multiple kiddie vehicles over the years, btw. I knew mom was in the house cleaning, so I was home free to begin my stunt run. It was unfortunate the only audience I'd have was our two blue-tick hounds and the couple of cows eating grass in the pasture, but I knew adults just wouldn't get what I was trying to do. Parents just don't understand.
About the time I'd figured out how to mount the Big Wheel without tumbling off, my mom spied me from the kitchen window. I climbed on the trike and started my descent just as I heard a loud "STEPHEN CLARK JOHNSON!! GET DOWN!!" You know when you hear your mom use your full name, shit's about to go down. Now, my mom's all of 5 feet tall, so not really built for running marathons. But she was like a cheetah that day, curly blonde hair a yellow streak flying behind her as she zoomed down that hill. Later in life, I'd realize she must've somehow accessed the Speed Force that day and briefly turned into FlashMom. It was the only explanation.
As I reached the bottom of the slide, at a much slower rate of speed than my mom was moving, she met me at the bottom as I was beginning the jump portion of the stunt. So, we'll never know if I could've landed it. Thanks, mom. No, in all seriousness, I think it was the first time I'd terrified my mom with some of my, um, boisterousness as a child. She was crying and shaking, so I started crying and shaking. I don't think I even got a whipping, I think mom and dad sat me down and had a talk with me, about not trying things I saw on TV. Oh, that would be the first of many, many talks growing up...
So, I probably wouldn't have been hurt badly as I was maybe traveling down that slide at a rate of about 3 miles an hour. It wasn't very tall, after all. So, I promise the next story of near demise as a child will be more macabre, dear reader...