From Chicken Soup for the Child's Soul

The Hill

Some choices we live not only once but a thousand times over, remembering them for the rest of our lives.

Richard Bach

As my eight-year-old feet pumped the pedals, stones spit out behind the rear tire to form what I imagined to be motorcycle exhaust. When I neared the end of the drive where the gravel met asphalt, I slammed the right pedal backward, making the back tire slide sideways and my bike come to a skidding stop.

As I put down my left foot and leaned the bicycle toward the driveway, I saw my friend Timmy running to catch up. He beamed with almost as much pride as I felt after my first successful sideways stop. After all, Timmy taught me on his bike how to ride when other kids made fun of the fact that I did not know how to ride, much less own a bicycle. He was easy to understand, encouraging and patient; he was the perfect coach.

Timmy’s grin faded as he got closer and peered over my shoulder. I heard the sound of a boot kicking gravel off the asphalt back onto the driveway. A stray rock made a slight “ping” sound as it struck one of the spokes.

It was my dad.

As he scooted the last piece of gravel back into the driveway where it belonged, he raised his eyes to glare at me. He always seemed to want me to be perfect, but it seemed I couldn’t please him. My bedroom wasn’t clean enough; I couldn’t get to the dinner table fast enough; my toys weren’t cared for enough. He moved in front of the bicycle, straddled the front tire, and leaned over the handlebars until he was directly in front of me.

He looked briefly at Timmy, and then turned back to me.

“I thought if I let you and Timmy ride the bike, you agreed to keep it in the driveway?”

“But, Dad, we didn’t get in the road,” I replied.

“You were close enough!” he stormed.

“I had it under control,” I defended.

“Under control? If you had slid one more foot, you would have been in the street. What if a car had been coming?”

“But, there wasn’t, Dad. I looked. . . .”

He cut me off. “You just don’t know how dangerous this hill is, do you? Tall bushes line the street, and then the road curves at the bottom of our hill and then climbs another hill bigger than ours. If you get on the road, a driver wouldn’t even see you comin’!”

I pulled my right leg over the bar of the bicycle and looked at Timmy. “You might as well take this, Timmy. I’m never allowed to do anything.”

My father looked at me sternly as he surrendered the bike to Timmy. Timmy gave me an understanding look as he walked his bike to the “dangerous” road, put his left foot on the left pedal, and pushed the bicycle forward using his right foot to start the bike in motion.

“See, Dad, Timmy is allowed to ride on the street.”

“Timmy isn’t my son, Sherm. The only reason I haven’t bought you a bike or even taught you to ride is because of this dangerous hill. Besides, Timmy lives on the flat area above the hill and has plenty of safe road to ride on near his home.”

I trudged toward our house with my dad trailing behind me.

I didn’t get to ride the bike again until two weeks later. It was a perfect afternoon in early June with blue skies. My mom was lying on the couch with a headache, and my dad was fishing. Timmy and I used that chance to ride his bicycle.

We were having a great time taking turns riding on the gravel driveway, hopping over the hump in the middle of the drive. With Timmy’s encouragement, I dared for the first time to ride with no hands. It felt good to be doing something that my dad wouldn’t like without him breathing down my neck. I felt free to have a great time for once.

Timmy slyly looked at me before speaking, “Hey, Sherm, why don’t we try going down the hill?”

Riding on the driveway without permission was one thing, but riding down the hill was another. I thought about doing it for a minute, but I was very clear that riding down the hill was forbidden.

Finally, I agreed to be Timmy’s lookout. I stood at the top of the hill and watched for cars coming down the other hill. If it were safe, I would yell, “Clear!” to Timmy.

The first time he did it was so exciting. He pedaled hard for about fifty feet to get his speed up, and then he coasted the rest of way. I could see him until he turned the curve and started up the other hill. He disappeared around the tall bushes and then came out to where I saw him slow up and turn around to come back. It went perfectly.

Timmy yelled as he walked his bike back up our steep hill. “It was unbelievable, Sherm. You have to try it!”

My mom was asleep; my dad was away. There was no one to stop or scold me. I decided I had to take the chance.

Timmy watched to see if the hill was free of oncoming traffic. Before I went for it, I felt a twist in my stomach. It was a feeling I hadn’t felt before. I was going to try something that was forbidden. But I felt great. I felt daring. I felt free.

When Timmy shouted that it was okay to go, I started down the hill. The wind began to blow into my ears as the speed began to rise. The bike seemed to control itself as I sped down the hill.

I thought I heard Timmy yelling from behind me, but I figured he was just excited and enjoying my ride as much as I was. But when I cleared the curve, the screeching tires not only alerted my ears, but also opened my eyes to what was happening. For the first time in my life, I could actually hear my own heartbeat as I slammed the bike’s brakes.

Somehow, the car stopped before the bicycle’s front tire hit the front bumper. As the back wheel began to lift off the ground, I began to tumble over the handlebars. I clearly saw the hood of the car rush toward my face, and then the windshield wipers, and finally the windshield as I slid headfirst until I was face to face with the person behind the steering wheel. I immediately recognized the wide-open eyes staring through the windshield because they belonged to my father!

I hadn’t been scared until that moment, but I felt a tremble start in my toes and run like a wave through my legs, then my torso, and finally end in a huge shudder at my head.

Dad jumped out of the car and quickly came to my rescue. Without saying a word, he checked me for broken bones. His hands went over my legs and then my arms as he asked me where I hurt. After realizing that I was bruised but all right, he rolled me over to my back, gently lifted me off the hood of the car, and sat me on my feet. He left the car parked in the middle of the street and walked me to our house. Timmy came running toward us, and Dad surprised me when his voice quivered slightly as he softly asked Timmy to grab his bike and go home.

I got to the back door first, but Dad reached over me and opened the door. He nudged me forward to go on in. I stayed ahead of him until we got to the living room. My mother stirred and began to rise up from her nap.

I had been spanked with an open hand across the bottom when I had been young and did something dumb, but this time I had been older and bolder. I figured I’d get more than just a lecture this time.

But instead of another lecture, my dad struggled through tears to say, “Son, I could have lost you. I could have lost you. Nothing would be worse. Nothing.”

The next day was Sunday. I remember being at church and hoping that God was listening to my prayer of thanks that nothing worse had happened to me or to my father. When we got home, my dad didn’t even take off his church clothes. He went straight for the shed and then straight to the bushes by the street. He didn’t stop chopping until they all fell to the ground in a heap.

When he was finished, I walked over to be next to him. I finally realized that my dad, who I always thought was an uncaring and sometimes mean man, was actually a caring, loving father after all.

Sherm Perkins

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