Hot Wheels

By Ed Staskus

   The good times Maggie Campbell and her sisters and brother had when they were kids were always the day after their family fights, which were always the day before a holiday. Christmas Day was fun happy joyful because it was right after the big Christmas Eve scrape. All the presents under the tree didn’t hurt, either, so long as they hadn’t been busted in the melee.

   The fights happened before or on the dot of the holiday, never afterwards. On Easter, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving there was always a knockdown. Alma or Fred, their parents, or both at the same time, would start the fight. Afterwards the family pulled it together for the holiday, to look good for the big day. They had to look better for their friends neighbors and in-laws.

   One Christmas all their cousins from Pennsylvania, Maggie’s relatives and all their kids, were at their house in Bay Village. The house was warm and cozy and there hadn’t been any fights. They were all looking good. It was an unusual holiday. It couldn’t last. It didn’t last.

    It was Christmas Eve morning when Eric from Philadelphia passed gas.

   “Oh, that’s a wet one,” somebody said, and that started the whole thing, which turned out to be the flu. It went from Eric to Curtis to Kim and Skip and the rest of them. Everybody barfed and barfed for days. Alma was beyond mad. She was beside herself. She wanted to go to a hotel, even though she was a nurse. She would have jumped ship if she could have, but Fred made her stay.

   Every 4th of July there was a street party. They lived on one of the only two cul-de-sacs in Bay Village, a bedroom town west of Cleveland. In the morning all the kids would decorate their bikes and they would have a bike parade. Their parents judged the bikes and handed out prizes.

   They played games all day and later in the afternoon everybody’s parents carried their grills and picnic tables to the end of the cul-de-sac for a party. They had food soda chips and the grown-ups had coolers of beer. When the kids had soda pop they burped as loud as they could. The beer drinkers burped despite themselves. Everybody partied and had a great time.

   Maggie’s mother wore a t-shirt that said “JOE BALLS” on the front and “FROM NEWTON FALLS” on the back. It was a family joke. They had an uncle named Harold who lived in Newton Falls, but everybody called him Joe Balls. Nobody knew why. 

   One summer a waterspout off Lake Erie touched down during their street party. They were out in the street playing. Their parents were trashed. When Maggie ran into the house to tell her mother, she said, “Go back out there and play.” But they ended up having the rest of the party in the garage once she saw what was going on outside the window.

   Alma became a nurse when Maggie was in 5th grade. She had four kids and a husband in the house but before anybody knew what was going on she decided she wanted a career. Fred’s rich parents put her through nursing school, paying for it all. She studied at Tri-C and went to work at Lakewood Hospital. When she became a nurse, she wore a t-shirt that said “THE PUSHER” because she was an IV Therapist. She was the one who loaded the tubes with drugs.

  It was the same year, when Maggie was at Normandy Elementary School, during the Miracle of Richfield, that she got a pair of tennis shoe roller skates. They had a teacher at school named Mr. Barton and he loved to hoe down dance and dribble basketballs at the same time. He taught them to do it and they got so good at it that they were invited to perform at a Cleveland Cavs game.

   It was the year the team was scrappy and good and played the Washington Bullets in the conference finals. The stands were so crazy loud people wore earplugs and the players on both benches stuck their fingers in their ears.

   “The Washington series was the greatest sporting event I will ever see in my life,” said Bill Nichols, who covered the series for The Cleveland Plain Dealer.  “We want the Cavs! We want the Cavs! We want the Cavs!” Three of the games were decided in the last two seconds. The chanting was so loud that the chalkboard Cavalier Coach Bill Fitch used to diagram plays shook in his hands. “A couple of players had to hold it down,” star guard Austin Carr said.

   “If you don’t drop your ball, or double dribble, or anything else helter-skelter during the performance, I’ll buy you whatever you want,” Maggie’s dad said. She told him she wanted tennis shoe roller skates. “Whatever you want,” he said.

   They were colossal that night doing their hoe down dribble dance at halftime at the Richfield Coliseum, which isn’t there anymore. It’s just a big empty field full of stink weeds now that it’s been torn down. They danced to the song “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers.

   “ S_A_T_U_R_D_A_Y!”

   After she got them, Maggie lived in her purple roller skates from that day on. She put them on first thing in the morning and skated all over the house. She did axles in the streets and figure skated every day in her rollers. She went to the roller rink every chance she got. But she wasn’t allowed to wear them in school, no matter what she said. Even so, she wore them all the time until she got her first pair of high heels.

   “The roller skates came off right after that and I’ve never been out of high heels since,” she said. “The reason is that I stopped growing when I was in 6th grade. After that I found out I was going to be short. My mom was a pygmy, although I had three or four inches on her. I don’t know that she was ever taller than five-foot-one. She got shorter the older she got. Everybody else in our family was taller than me. My dad was six-foot-something. I was the shortest of all the kids, shorter even than my little brother Brad.”

   Her mother got Maggie a pair of Candies Heels. They were plastic made to look like wood and had a strap across the top of the foot that stopped about mid-way up. A girl could wear them with anything, shorts, skirts, and disco pants. They were the hot shoe. Every girl had to have a pair.

   “You’re going to be in these for the rest of your life,” her mom told her. “You will never get out of them.” She made Maggie practice walking in them, up and down the driveway, then up and down the street, and finally up and down the stairs. “You don’t want to walk like a clod,” she said. “A lot of girls stomp in their high heels, but you’re going to walk like a lady.”

   She got to where she could run in them fast. She could chase dogs. She was still fast when she grew up, not as much as she had been, but still fast if she had to be. She didn’t know who invented high heels, but thought women owed them a lot. “You put high heels on, and you change. Everything is different in them. Your body moves to a different kind of tempo.” 

   When she got her Candies Heels her favorite things in life were boys barbeques summertime and shoes. She loved dogs the most, but shoes were a close second. They couldn’t lick your face with slobber and love, but they could kickstart your new lady legs.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

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