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Ride of a lifetime

Rick Ryckeley's picture

I must admit, being 8 years old at the time, the new game seemed safe enough. Little did I know just how wrong I was – by the end of the day all of us ended up getting hurt. One of us even took a trip to the hospital. But that’s the end of this story. Here’s the beginning.

The plan:

As soon as Older Brother Richard said it was safe, I started to worry. You see, growing up at 110 Flamingo Street, I learned quickly. When there’s no possible way anyone could get hurt, someone always did. And seeing as I hadn’t been injured in about three weeks ... well, I figured I was about due.

The discovery:

Our house sat on top of a hill. The backyard bellied out into the edge of a swamp. First two years we lived at 110 Flamingo Street, the swamp all but dried up due to lack of rain.

That’s how, early one Saturday morning, Big Brother James and Richard discovered the giant tractor tire stuck in the middle of the swamp. Lower water levels had exposed the prize.

It took all that day and after church on Sunday to recover the implement that was soon to send one of us to the hospital.

The game:

After cleaning all swamp gunk off the tire and rolling it to the top of the hill, Richard explained the rules. Stand at the bottom of the hill in the backyard and dodge the giant tractor tire as one of your brothers sends it barreling down upon you. Last one standing wins.

Simple enough – just don’t get hit and you won’t get hurt.

Now looking back, I’d admit the game was a little dangerous, but only if you got hit. Trying not to get hit was something I was an expert at doing – thanks to Down the Street Bully Brad.

For the next hour the giant tractor tire rolled, we dodged, and then repeated – all without any injury. The game ended when Mom rang the dinner bell on the back porch.

Since school was still in, we decided to start the game again on Saturday. That night it started to rain, and it continued for the next five days. Saturday morning the rain stopped, the swamp was full, and us four boys started out the door for a full day of tire dodging. Or so I thought.

The new game:

With five days to think, Richard had come up with a new game: the giant tractor tire ride. While three of us held the tire, one of us would climb inside, keeping head, arms and legs inside also.

The tire would be given a mighty push, then roll down the hill, and stop when it hit the water in the swamp.

Richard said, “It’s safe. How can you get hurt? You’re covered in rubber. Keep everything inside the tire and you’ll be fine.”

This was a very good rule to remember. That is, if you didn’t want to go to the hospital.

We rode down the hill, splashed to a stop in the swamp, and then laughed at the dizzy person trying to climb out and walk around.

Just how long could we entertain ourselves this way you may ask? About two hours. That’s how long it took for The Sister to come out and find us.

The question:

The Sister said, “Can I play?” Not wanting Dad to yell at us again for not including her in our games, Richard told her how to play. He told her the importance of keeping everything inside the tire until it came to a complete stop.

She climbed in, we all pushed, and the giant tractor tire rolled down the hill for the last time. You know, to this day I still don’t understand what went wrong.

The crash:

About halfway down, the tire wobbled off course and hit the rock at the bottom of the hill just to the right of the swamp. The tire and The Sister went airborne. To her credit, she didn’t fall out until the third bounce.

Dad heard the screaming and came outside, ran down the hill, scooped her up. As he past us he growled, “Don’t move until I get back.” He carried her to the green station wagon with the faux wood panels.

My brothers didn’t move, but I did. I knew what game Dad would be playing when they returned from the hospital. I walked down to the edge of the swamp and picked out four switches.

The lesson:

Most everything in life has rules, especially games. Usually when rules aren’t followed, someone gets hurt, as in The Sister’s case, or even worse.

I learned that lesson well when I was only 8 – in a backyard that bellied out into a swamp. A yard located at 110 Flamingo Street.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for over 26 years and a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is His book is available at]


I read a book recently that equated life lessons to basic economics. Lessons learned earlier cost less and are worth more. Lessons learned later cost more and are worth less.
As children we learn our best lessons when the parents aren't around and we get hurt. We learn not to touch the hot stove, not to push the brother down the stairs, and in my case not to see who can ride the rope swing the furthest out without holding on with your hands. If we don't learn those lessons as children, we may learn the same lesson as an adult by being in a car accident (perhaps with a fatality), missing a promotion at a job (or perhaps being fired), etc... But think of all that wisdom lost because of helicopter parents.
Now with children of my own, I proudly tell them the stories of how I got my scars, and I hold my wife back as my six year old climbs on the outside of the playset.
Sometimes I feel that the government, OSHA, social standards, and safety features on everything are robbing our children of the lessons they need to be fully functional adults.
I think everyone old enough to want to read your column smiled and nodded along as they read. Unfortunately the people who need the lesson the most won't read it, and won't learn it until they are wrenched away from their xBox, or are allowed to fail something at school without parent intervention.

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