I can't remember which Christmas or birthday it was, or even if it was one of them at all. In any case, one year I wound up with a red Radio Flyer wagon. I don't think it excited me at the time. My reaction was probably, 'it's ok, I guess' or something similar. It grew on me, though. It wasn't a toy, it was a tool for childhood; as seminal in its own way as my first bike. Not to say I didn't use it as a toy, of course I did. My mom and her hardwood floors were all too aware of my propensity to use it as such. She never regretted giving it to me though; it was too useful. It was the kid's version of having a station wagon. All of the sudden a trip to the park could be undertaken fully equipped with all manner of cumbersome sporting equipment, picnic, toy and even extra clothing. Just pile it in the Radio Flyer and away we went. It made a racket on the brick sidewalks of Beacon Hill, trumpeting our youthful parade. My mother would use it from time to time as well, when she didn't want to take the car. It served to link my boyhood to that of Calvin, from Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes. I never quite managed to find a trail quite as idyllic as the scenes set in the comic, but my mind certainly wandered as I sat in it and gripped the handle careening through imagined wilderness. It was frequently a mining cart from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It leapt many a magma pool in its day.
I dragged it behind me when I walked to the Boston Common for little league games. My bat and glove joined the rattle of the wheels along the brick, bringing their own rhythm. Sometimes there'd be a playmate cooler full of juice and sandwiches. I have no bad memories of those games. Time has polished them into unblemished gems of childhood. Wearing a batter's helmet that would always look too big and trying, at the age of 11, to stare down the opposing pitcher. Lying in the warm spring grass before warming up, tossing the ball up gently and catching it again. We talked about Boggs and Clemens and Oil Can and Greenwell and '86. We all wanted to play for the Red Sox when we grew up, right after being James Bond, Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker. Then we'd play and sometimes we'd win and sometimes we'd lose. Losses stung and wins overjoyed.
Then, in the golden late afternoon, covered in dust and dirt, I would load up the wagon and drag it home, firing questions at my mom, 'did you see that double I hit?', 'did you see that throw?' I never waited for an answer. Breathless, I'd ask another and another until we got home.
These memories come back stronger in the depth of Scottish winter. The golden afternoons, when they're not grey, come far earlier in the day. My bright red Radio Flyer's been replaced by a beat up silver Renault.
There's still a rattle, but it's less endearing.