When I was growing up in the tiny town of Washington, Louisiana (estimated population was 1,500), there were about 5 police officers on staff and my father knew them all. Not suprising since he grew up there and was an attorney. Basically, everyone knew everyone else – and everyone’s business (something my mom and sister sometimes loathed).
Part of the fun of living in a small town IS the fact that everyone knows everyone else and sometimes residents are afforded a bit more freedom than would be allowed in a larger city…..like allowing small children to drive ATV’s on the street – without a license or a helmet. Yes, that was me :)
It all started one evening when we were returning home from dinner as a family, a few weeks before Christmas. As luck would have it, my father, my uncle and another family friend all purchased ATV’s for their families – the same make/model. I think they were more for the adults than the kids, but I may never know.
We pull into the garage of our house and there’s a brand new, shiny red Honda ATV sitting in the garage. The rest of the family is puzzled and a bit surprised as my father begins to curse under his breath – he was exceptionally skilled at swearing. After a few angry phone calls, he’s informed that the family friend decided to hide his family’s ATV in our garage, thereby ruining the surprise for my family. Oh well, in the end we still ended up with an ATV and I grew to love that vehicle. Much like teenagers who first get their driver’s license, I saw the ATV as my key to freedom. It became my vehicle. I’d drive it on the streets (I did my best to stay on back roads, but I would drive down Main Street occasionally) and I’d even stop at the gas station to fill it up. I distinctly remember pulling into the Citgo gas station, filling it up and then going inside to sign the charge slip to charge the fuel to my father’s account on file. Most stores in town had charge accounts and you’d just give the person’s name and they would be sent a bill at the end of the month. As a kid, that was a beautiful thing – unless you went to Landreneau’s grocery and charged $5.00 worth of candy on your father’s account and got a stern lecture to never, ever do that again (ask me how I know…) Groceries and occasional treats were okay, but the charges were monitored and we were kept in line if we got too spendy with the charge account.
I loved that ATV – I’d drive it over to friend’s houses and we’d play hide and go seek among the fields of giant rolls of hay (they lived on a large tract of land). I’d drive it to the antique school mall to run my popcorn stand. I’d run to the store for my mom. It was truly my key to freedom in that small town and I was never pulled over by the local police officers. It was almost like we had an understanding. However, I’ll never forget the day that I came around a corner too quickly and almost hit a cop car head-on. I stopped and he gave me a stern look and told me to “slow down” and I certainly heeded his advice. While I knew that driving the ATV gave me freedom, I certainly knew it was probably not legal nor sanctioned by the police department. As long as I stayed out of trouble, I would be okay. And I did stay out of trouble – for the most part, I was a good kid.
After my father moved from our home on 3 acres of land in Washington, he purchased 40 acres in a small town just south on I-49. Once again, the ATV was indispensable for use on the large tract of land he owned. My little brother received a pet pit bull (dog) as a gift from my uncle and the dog quickly grew to be too large for my 7 year old brother to handle. My father would frequently give the dog exercise by attaching the dog’s leash to the ATV and running the dog in the field behind his house. It was a great solution as my father had an injured back and could not physically run, but the dog needed and enjoyed the exercise.
After his death, I went to my father’s home and recalled the story of how he’d run the dog with the ATV. It was sad to see the dog staked out in the yard and feeling neglected. It’s almost as though animals can sense the death of a person and this dog knew something was very, very wrong. I decided that the dog needed attention and I could use a ride for some stress relief, so I went to the shop, fired up the ATV and attached the dog’s leash the vehicle. We went out to the field and I had the ATV running wide open and looked back to see that the pit bull was keeping pace with me. A few minutes later, he dropped out of my sight and I realized he’d tripped*. I slammed on the brakes and before there was slack in the leash, that dog was back on his feet and running ahead of the ATV. That’s when I realized the speed and power of those pit bulls. Amazing.
I’ll never forget the sense of freedom I felt when riding that ATV. Anytime my husband and I go to an outdoor equipment store and there are ATV’s parked out front, I yearn to own one again. We’ve frequently discussed the possibility of moving to a climate where it is snowy and cold, but I cringe at the thought of having to shovel snow. Then I saw an ATV with a snow plow mounted to the front bumper on our visit to an outdoor equipment store. I immediately turned to my husband and proclaimed that I’d gladly move where there was snow and would even plow the driveway, if I were allowed to own an ATV. That just might mean that I will own an ATV again in my lifetime…and if I do, the day we welcome an ATV into our family will be a joyous day in my life.
*NOTE: The dog was not harmed during this activity. I promise.