Imagine a six-foot tall, broad shouldered imposing man riding a unicycle down a city block, holding a baby underneath his arm and laughing while his short, five foot four dumpy Italian wife runs after him screaming.
It’s one of my parent’s favorite stories, how he carried me down half the block while my mother panicked and shouted, “Give me back that baby!” My father’s face always transforms with the telling, his cheeks growing rosy and his eyes sparkling at the recalled mischief while my mother huffs in remembered frustration. It goes hand in hand with the story of my father taking me to the neighbor’s house to get my diaper changed in fear of the poop, or of him throwing up off the front porch after I threw up in my crib and, upon smelling the vomit when reentering the house, continuing to the back porch to throw up there. These stories inevitably bring another to all of our minds, one that I can actually remember and still makes me laugh upon thinking back upon it.
When I was growing up, we lived in a small suburb and my aunt and uncle were six blocks down the street. It was common for a family bike ride to culminate there. We spent enough time visiting that I still feel comfortable walking in without asking and could probably find anything you were looking for in the house.
In this case, though, the trip to visit was via unicycle and it was just my father and me.
I was probably four or five years old, still small enough to ride on my father’s shoulders. He placed me up there, warned me not to pull his hair, and popped up onto the unicycle. After carefully balancing back and forth by the porch so he could grab a beer for each hand, since he didn’t want to impose when we arrived, we cycled off down the street.
Now, unicycles are trickier than bicycles. In order to get off, you have to fall forward and reach back to catch the unicycle with one hand, and the problem with this particular incident is that my father’s hands were full.
I remember that we were at a point in the sidewalk where I had to duck a little to avoid some low-lying, bright green branches and the movement must have triggered something in my body, because I farted.
Naturally, I did what any child would do upon thinking about farting while sitting on her father’s shoulders: I snickered. And as I did, I started to fart more, which then induced me to greater hilarity and more farts. With each laugh, I rocked back and forth and yanked on my father’s head, causing him to turn this way and that as he tried to balance.
My father started off asking me what was so funny, but soon he started to laugh with me, so that he was teetering back and forth on the unicycle with two beers in his hands while I clutched at his head and he couldn’t get off because he couldn’t catch the unicycle.
When he asks me what was so funny today, I just shrug and say, “It was.” In fact, it still is, even more so when I picture what we must have looked like. Can you imagine seeing a six-foot, broad shouldered man riding a unicycle with a farting young girl on his shoulders yanking on his head and both laughing hard enough to induce tears?
Then the conversation will move on to the hole that my brother dug in the sandbox that was as deep as he was tall, the giant snow pile my father made in our front yard after plowing one year that caused my brother to bust his lip or how my parrot fell down the stairs while yelling for my mother. One guarantee I can always give is that if you place my parents in a relaxed, stress-and–worry-free-guaranteed atmosphere with friends, they will start telling stories. It is one of the few times I can see them smile so much and the flashbacks to the past are a welcome release to happier times after so much focus on the future.