From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Jumping the Generation Gap

“Steven, now that we’ve arrived for another summer on our Missouri farm, remember that country living is different from our city life in Florida,” Jim said as he slammed the hood of the old pickup, wiped his greasy hands on a rag, and continued talking to our son, while I stood nearby. “You’ll be around farm equipment and you need to practice safety.”

“I’ll be careful, Dad. And now that I’m thirteen will you and Mom let me buy a dirt bike with the money I’ve earned?”

Jim glanced at me and I nodded my approval. “Okay, son. We can look for a dirt bike tomorrow morning. We’ll drive to that motorcycle shop fifty miles north of here and see what they have.”

“Thanks, Mom and Dad!” said our grateful son as he embraced me and beamed at his father.

The next afternoon Jim and Steven returned with a black and yellow dirt bike perched in the back of the pickup.

“Look, Mom!” Steven exclaimed as he leaped into the truck bed and sat on the bike’s seat. “Isn’t this cool? Some kid just outgrew it. We got a good deal! I’m going to go ride this cool machine!”

“Hold on!” interrupted Jim. “This bike is new to you. Let’s spend some time checking it out and talking about safety.”

When the guys finished going over the bike and basic safety rules, Steven cranked the motor that sounded like a chain saw. Then our son raced across the pasture on his new toy.

“Is the bike dangerous? Are we being too lenient as parents? Will he take risks?” I asked my husband.

“He’s got a good head on his shoulders, and I’ve taught him to be careful,” said Jim as the sound of the bike faded into a distant pasture.

Steven was thrilled with his bike. He rode it every day, stopping long enough to coax his dad into driving him to the only gas station in the area to fill five-gallon cans.

Steven’s friend Scott, who lived in town, decided he, too, wanted a dirt bike and coaxed his dad into buying one. The two boys raced their little motorcycles in the pastures and along roads. When the summer rains arrived, the country roads became muddy and slippery.

“Watch out for these slick roads,” Jim warned. “That mud can get the best of you and take your bike down in a minute.”

“I’ll be careful,” Steven promised.

The rains continued, and the creeks began to rise. Torrents of water rushed under the one-lane wooden bridge that connected our farm to the town. At a break in the weather, Steven said, “I’m going into town to visit Scott. See you later!”

The setting sun was turning the sky a dusty orange when Steven returned and entered the kitchen.

“How’s Scott?” I inquired.

“Fine,” he replied as he grabbed a chocolate chip cookie and sat at the table next to his dad.

“Any news from town?” Jim asked.

“Yeah, the wooden bridge is out. The high creek washed it away!”

“That’s terrible news,” said Jim. “They’ll have to rebuild it right away. We can’t get to town without a bridge.”

“I did,” mumbled Steven.

“You did?” asked Jim, looking puzzled. “That’s impossible! If the bridge is out, there’s no way to cross over that stream.”

“Yes, there is.”

“How?” I asked.

“On my bike! It was awesome!”

“Don’t tell me you jumped your dirt bike over that raging water! You could have been killed!” said his agitated father.

“But, Dad, I wasn’t killed. I had no choice! It was fantastic! I just backed my bike up a few feet. Then when I got to the stream I gunned the engine, and my bike flew into the air and landed on the other side! While I was in the air I worried for a second that I wouldn’t make it, but I landed okay. When I told Scott about it, he was jealous.”

“Oh, Steven!” I moaned. “I can’t believe you did that! How did you get back home? Don’t tell me you . . .”

“The same way! It was even better the second time! I’ll never forget it!”

“What you did was risky and unsafe!” said Jim. “You’re lucky you weren’t injured or killed. After all our talks about safety, you made a bad decision.”

Summers passed. Steven graduated from the Coast Guard Academy and no longer joined us on the farm. Then an eventful day arrived.

Before noon a father and his young son came to test-drive the dirt bike we advertised in the rural paper. The boy zoomed along the gravel road. When he drove back to the farmhouse, his face was flushed with excitement.

“You’ll have to be careful on that thing,” his dad warned as he took out his wallet and handed Jim some bills. He waved as they drove away with the dirt bike bouncing in the back of the truck.

Jim and I got in our old pickup and headed to town. We stopped at the wooden bridge that was rebuilt when the stream washed away the old one years ago.

“After all my lectures on safety, Steven fearlessly jumped his dirt bike across this stream and survived,” said Jim. Then a smile played at the corners of his mouth, and he added, “I have to admit, when I was an adventuresome kid his age, I would have done the same thing. Now that Steven is a Coast Guard Officer, risking his life to save people from dangerous waters, perhaps his jumping a swollen stream on his dirt bike was practice for his future career.”

Miriam Hill

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