It amazes me, sometimes, the way childhood memories long forgotten suddenly come to the fore of the mind after decades have passed. In this case, 56 or 57 years have passed, and out of the blue this morning, while enjoying a chilly Spring morning on my back porch, I remembered the tricycle I once rode. In that moment, I relived riding it on my childhood street of row homes, restricted to the sidewalk of the half on which we lived, and never permitted to cross the curb onto the asphalt. We lived on the side that was perennially in the shade, so I seldom experienced a day in the sun unless I was given permission to cross the street by my mom or an adult neighbor.
I distinctly remember the air, sky and atmosphere in those days seeming very clean and sparkling despite living in a section of South Philly that was surrounded by factories that belched out toxic fumes day and night to the extent that our neighborhood became one of the top cancer prone sections of the city. I was also too young to know that elsewhere in the world the detonation of nuclear test bombs was poisoning the air with radiactive refuse. Maybe that’s why it seemed so clean: the air was electrified.
I could still picture the trike. It looked like the ones in the photos here, and it must have been a Radio Flyer or Murray brand – I don’t recall which. It was gleaming, metallic red with white accents; a wide saddle seat of white vinyl with red striping; a wide platform step in the rear that straddled the two smaller back wheels, and a particularly large front wheel. It had one of those annoying, thumb operated bike bells that I used liberally, the sound of which was reminiscent of the one used by an ice cream vendor who drove his truck through the neighborhood streets on the warm days of Spring through early Fall.
I remembered a game that I had created. I don’t know if I learned to do this from someone older, or if it was an imaginative idea I conjured at that young age. Whenever I was riding and encountered someone along the sidewalk, I would stop pedaling, dismount, grab the handlebars and then pull my tricycle backwards and upright, and rest the front handlbars with rubber grips on the ground. I recall it making the bike almost as tall as I stood, and somehow this gave me a feeling of power, of command over the elements. I’d then stand behind it while turning the pedals with one hand, ringing my thumb-bell with the other and yelling “Ice cream! Ice cream!” I pretended to be an ice cream hawker, imagining that I could make ice cream by turning the pedals.
My friends didn’t judge or question this activity, but, without hesitation, would instead just join into the game as it was manifesting and promptly come over, put out their hands, and pretend to buy a cone of the good stuff from me. I would ask what flavor they wanted – a choice of only 3 flavors – Vanilla, Chocolate, or Strawberry. When they decided, I would crank the big front wheel with the pedals a few times, and then pretend to fill a cone and hand it to them in exchange for their imaginary money. I made a fortune in imaginary money that way by the time I was 5 years old!