Janet Sheridan: Turtle racing and other insane activities
When young, I jumped from a low branch of a cottonwood tree to the bare back of Easter, our horse, who stood swishing his tail in the shade below. Easter bolted; I fell; my cousins laughed.
My barely-older brother Bob and I played mumblety-peg with pocketknives or screwdrivers, trying to stick them in the lawn as close to our own feet as possible. The person whose blade came closest to cutting off their toes won. Because the loser had to pull the winner’s knife out of the grass with their teeth, we threw our knives as accurately and forcefully as possible. Our force exceeded our accuracy, making mumblety-peg a delightfully dangerous pastime.
When I was 10, adults began hiring me to babysit their children. Fresh from aerial acrobatics and mumblety-peg, I’d nod my head in agreement as parents described their expectations; when they left, the fun began. I suppose parents assumed I had good sense because I was taller than their children and a few of them, as well.
As a teenager, I did my share of stupid things, most of them involving cars. I drove or rode in a variety of automobile and trucks going too fast and carrying too many passengers. I rode on fenders, hung out of car windows to yell at friends, and stood on the running boards of trucks, clinging to the side mirror. Occasionally, I crammed myself into car trunks with too many others to avoid the price of a ticket to the drive-in.
Today’s children and teens, aided by the internet, have created equally alarming ways to be brainless. They use social media to challenge one another to eat ground cinnamon, snort smarties, and chew laundry pods; they also attempt to drink a gallon of milk in under a minute, then sit on a stove’s red-hot burner for longer than a minute. And, always, they video these exploits and publish them on social media, thereby preserving their cluelessness for posterity and future employers.
Adults do idiotic things, as well, and have done so for hundreds of years, according to the book “Fox Tossing and Other Forgotten and Dangerous Sports, Pastimes, and Games,” by Edward Brooke-Hitching. Though the fox tossing of the title — competing to see who can toss a terrified fox the highest — occurred in the Middle Ages, the book also chronicles more recent ventures in our fair land.
During the 1900s, Americans boxed on horseback, trying to punch an opponent so hard he fell off his horse, thus scoring a knockout — a rare occurrence when wearing boxing gloves to hold the reins that control your horse. Others plunged over Niagara Falls in barrels or harnessed themselves to huge helium balloons to sprint into a wind that carried both balloon and daredevil as high and far as it wished. Those old enough to know better also vied for records like today’s teens, stuffing themselves into telephone booths, perching on flagpoles, and swallowing live goldfish, one small body after another.
Fun seekers in the USA also adopted and improved the British sport of cheering on tortoises with tiny plastic jockeys strapped to their shells as they inched across pool tables toward a pile of lettuce. America’s bigger and better version featured giant turtles racing with children on their backs. This fad faded in 1979, when a female spectator kissed one of the turtles, which returned her affection by clamping down on her lip and holding on until paramedics injected it with valium.
Today, most adults I socialize with settle for less blatant acts of foolishness like forgetting to wear their hearing aids, agreeing to chaperone a grandchild’s field trip, or driving cross country with their left blinker flashing.
Janet Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at auntbeulah.com the first and 15th of every month.
Stories enrich our lives. We tell them, listen to them, read them, repeat them, write them, watch them on TV, enjoy them in theaters. Stories teach us, entertain us, make us laugh, ease our social situations, and cement our friendships.