Clair McFarland: Have Mercy On The Fifth Grader’s Four-Wheeler Passenger 

Clair McFarland writes: My pleas made no difference. I was destined to shoot through the neighborhood on a roaring anachronism, one fifth-graders sneeze away from a spectacular death.

Clair McFarland

September 09, 20225 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Wyoming’s best cathedral is a four-wheeler in motion with a 10-year-old at the helm.    

Last week, The Husband revived that little four-wheeler and taught my middle-born son how to shift it. No one had to teach Middleborn how to throttle and steer the thing, though, because that’s in his DNA.   

He is allowed to ride the quad around our circular driveway. He is not allowed to drive through the neighborhood without a responsible adult sitting on the seat behind him.    

A smallish adult who won’t upset the weight ratio.    

“What – me?” I stammered.    

The Husband and Middleborn had cornered me in the kitchen that evening, with their twin hooded eyes and their earnest nodding heads.    

“But – but I’ve had way too much garlic for that,” I protested.    

The garlic is medicinal, not recreational.    

My pleas made no difference. I was destined to shoot through the neighborhood on a roaring anachronism, one fifth-grader’s sneeze away from a spectacular death.    

Middleborn perched his tiny frame on the seat and started the engine. I swung a leg over and settled onto the seat behind him, unsure whether to hold his thin swooping ribs or grip the quad’s metal rear rack.     

We lurched into gear. I grabbed the metal.    

“Swing low, sweet chariot,” I yodeled over the engine’s full rattle.    

“Mom. You’re fine. Calm down,” said Middleborn, smashing his vengeful thumb into the throttle.     

It’s a straight shot from the larger driveway into a canal’s rushing waters. Or, if you want to live, a sharp right turn will take you to a boulder, then a bridge. From the bridge you can turn right along the canal or launch straight downhill onto a corrugated dirt road leading to civilization.    

My little savage chose civilization. And he talked the whole way there.    

“See, Mom, you just gotta do this –“ he shifted up “– and then you’re good to go until you hear that –“ the engine raced. “Then you gotta shift again.”   

Middleborn sniffed at the flying dirt grains pelting our faces like enemy fire.  

“Hm,” said he, “someone’s cookin’ hot dogs. When are WE gonna have hot dogs?”   

We clattered over the packed ruts. My organs melted together.    

“Our Father, who art in heaven –“ I murmured.    

“It’s OK Mom we’re not gonna die right now,” said Middleborn, hurtling onto the paved road. “Does this thing have a turn signal?”   

“Sweetie….” I said, “This road has no shoulder. Don’t you think you should slow down?”    

It was a 10-foot straight drop from the road into someone’s pasture.    

“Nahhh,” said Middleborn. “The road is paved. That means you can go as fast as you want.”    

“That’s not what that means,” I yelled, but the engine drowned out my reasoning.    

Middleborn hung a hard right onto another dirt road known for its hairpin curves and puddle scars.    

“I want to wave at my buddy if he’s out,” he said.    

We careened down the road. The sun, gored and defeated, slunk behind the hills to die.  

“Uh-Uh-mazing grace, how sweet the sound,” I bellowed.   

“Oh – There’s my friend,” said Middleborn, waving at a formless blur in my periphery.    

This road also intersects with a watery grave, but Middleborn was too smart for that. He whipped the quad left away from the canal, clattered over a cattle guard, dodged a fat raccoon, jumped the barrow ditch and swiveled us right, just in time to scare the tumbleweeds off a disused canal road.   

“See what a good driver I am?” Middleborn said, turning his helmeted head toward me long enough to lose sight of the road and veer left against the canal.    

“Whoopsie,” he said, shoving the handlebars clockwise like a person who is not at all insane.    

“I ONCE was LOST, but now am FOUND,” I sang into the weakening sky.    

“Shh!” snapped Middleborn. “Listen.”    

He braked and turned off the engine. The world emptied of noise.    

Then. A choir of crickets, ascending forever in layered harmonies stretching back to their own cricket Adam, flooded the evening with song.  

I sighed. My fists thawed. My lungs relaxed against their cage.    

“Now THAT’S a prayer,” I whispered.    

Middleborn nodded. Then he fired up the quad and trundled me back to our home.  

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter