My friend Hilton grew up poor in South Alabama. He and his older brother didn’t have a lot of toys, but they did have one tricycle to share between them. Only Hilton’s brother wasn’t much of a sharer. He rarely gave five-year-old Hilton a turn, and when Hilton did get on the tricycle, his brother was likely as not to knock him off and ride it himself. Which made it hard to relax and enjoy any tricycle time he got.
One day the two boys were playing at a creek not too far from the house when the older brother stepped on a leg trap—picture a snap-jawed bear trap from the cartoons, but smaller and without the teeth. Still plenty painful, though, on a little boy’s bare foot. The older brother howled in agony while Hilton sweated and grunted, trying to open the jaws of the trap enough to free the foot. But he was only five. He couldn’t do it. The two boys together, in fact, couldn’t open the trap. “Go get mama!” the brother bawled. “Get her quick!”
So Hilton lit out for the house, as fast as his little legs could carry him. He pushed through the palmetto of the creek bottom and onto the sandy road, his brother’s howls ringing in his ears. “Got to get Mama,” he said to himself as he ran. “Mama can fix it.” He turned up the long drive that led to the house and kept running. He could feel a little stitch in his side and he couldn’t hear his brother’s howls so clearly now but he kept running. “Got to get Mama,” he said. “She can fix it.”
The house had just come into view when Hilton pulled up short. There, under the shade tree, sat the tricycle, unattended. There was no older brother. Nor was there any danger of anybody sneaking up from behind and knocking him off. For the first time in his life, the opportunity for a leisurely ride on the tricycle presented itself. So he hopped on. “I rode it three times around the house before I went in and got Mama,” he said. “Each time I came around the front, I could just hear my brother yelling down at the creek.”
Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy, one of the finest biographies of Flannery O’Connor we’ve ever read. His other books include the Wilderking Trilogy–The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking–as well as The World According to Narnia and a biography of Saint Patrick. He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.