I recently wrote a story about my most memorable Thanksgiving experience. It had to do with a visit to Uncle Noel and Aunt Gay’s house in Birmingham, Alabama sometime around 1960, and my knocking over a glass of sweet tea into a hot bowl of gravy, just as the meal got underway. That blunder pretty much ruined Aunt Gay’s well-planned Thanksgiving dinner.
Flashing ahead to Christmas which is rapidly approaching, I can’t nail down any one specific holiday standing tall above the rest. They were all special. There were several things repeatedly happening during our Christmases that I believe other families took part in as well. Tossing balls of wrapping paper at each other being one, while always having fruitcake on hand being another.
Somewhere back in time, Mom purchased or was given a nutcracker set. I recall it being chrome plated, with spring-loaded hinges on top. Our nutcracker basically resembled a set of martial arts nunchuks. You’ll have to Google that word to get the full picture.
A nut would be placed in the middle of two rods and squeezed until its shell broke. This worked fine for soft nuts like peanuts and pecans, but for some of the harder stuff it was a joke. Dad didn’t even have strength to break them open. Sometimes, this flimsy nutcracker did more damage to fingers and knuckles than nuts. A hammer was generally hauled out to finish things off.
Included in Mom’s nutcracker set were several sharp metal picks used to pull “meat” out of a broken shell. For whatever reason, my parents referred to the edible part of a nut as meat. Go figure? A wood tray, selection of nuts, and cracking tool were placed on our coffee table each holiday season. Mother kept the picks out of harms way in a kitchen drawer.
My brother and I eventually came to possess our own. Much bigger and totally different than Mom’s, they were given to us as Christmas gifts in San Antonio, Texas. I still have an ancient, 8mm movie, showing them parked in our living room, with a silver Christmas tree proudly standing in the background.
The exclusive nutcrackers I’m referring to were a matched pair of “English Racer” bicycles. They were manufactured by AMF and had skinny tires along with three-speed shifters. Both bikes were a bit tall for us, yet the folks evidently figured we’d grow into them. From the get-go they were nothing but problems. Stuff was always going wrong like the headlights never working including brakes, and gear shifters malfunctioning. I ignorantly blamed it on them being from England although they were made in the U.S.
Jim and I would race around the block, standing up while pedaling to reach maximum speed. That’s when we learned to be respectful of the deadly machines. Sometimes, when pedaling for all it’s worth and shifting gears, the chain would unexpectedly fly off. When that happened, you’d come down hard between the middle of your legs on the upper frame tube. To say this was a painful experience is an understatement. It happened numerous times.
I recall my brother performing this act as the grand finale to an otherwise spectacular burst of speed. We were racing and he was in the lead like always, when Jim’s chain disengaged and his body quickly dropped to the center bar like a ragdoll.
Out of control at this point, he slowly veered off the gravel road, with toes of both shoes dragging the ground to stop. He soon crashed and burned; figuratively speaking. In severe agony, my brother was black and blue in the most sensitive area of male anatomy, and had to be taken to the emergency room.
After that incident, Dad converted the bikes into single-speed by eliminating shifters and other components. Technically, we no longer rode English Racers although we still called them that. These now much slower bikes didn’t hang around long before being sold or traded to friends.
The other day, my wife was listening to a holiday music channel on our Jeep radio. “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” came on and it’s one of my favorites. The tune was written by Russian composer, Peter Tchaikovsky, as part of his famous, “The Nutcracker Suite” ballet.
I seriously doubt Tchaikovsky was thinking of an English Racer bicycle when he composed this ballet, although if he removed the word Suite, the title fits like a glove!