reunion-004_2 Phyllis Mathis is a writer, a psychotherapist, and a life coach, living and working in Littleton, CO. Check out her website: Resonance: your life, in tune. The Secret Invention of the Skateboard is a true story, with a few embellishments for the sake of a good tale. That’s why we call it creative nonfiction, right?


24_roller-skatesThe Secret Invention of the Skateboard

The invention of the skateboard occurred on a perfect summer morning in the early 1960’s.  It was probably late June, because it was new enough summer to be cool in the mornings, and late enough summer for my brother Mark to be bored and looking for a good project.

My brother was a great one for neighborhood projects, and I was grateful to be included, or at least tolerated. One summer he scrounged up some digging utensils consisting of my mother’s serving spoons and some miscellaneous yard tools, and proceeded to excavate Red Dirt Hill, a vacant lot across the street from our house. In two weeks time the gang of us had carved a neighborhood of houses out of the side of the hill, complete with transplanted wild rose and yucca bushes, carports for our wagons, and some pretty inventive furniture. My poor mother could never get our clothes clean. Red dirt clogged the pores of our skin, jammed the underside of our fingernails, and gave our hair a coppery tint. She finally put a stop to the project, but not before we staged our very own Neighborhood Parade of Homes.

Mark probably invented the skateboard when he was about thirteen, just the right age for a summer of adventure. He was old enough to be inventive, creative enough to turn work into play, but yet child enough to include the hangers-on. He was not yet too cool to share the planet with inferior schlubs like us, so whatever Mark found to do, we were game to do as well.

So it was, on a perfect June day, and with an adventurous gleam in his eye, that he decided to fool around with our roller skates. He was already too cool to clamp them on his shoes like the rest of us. There had to be a way to improve their function, some other way to make roller skates more interesting. If only one could sit down and ride, like a little cart…

With his skate key in one hand, and Volume A of the Encyclopedia Britannica in the other, he made history. This sturdy hardbound book was the perfect platform, the ideal size on which to rest his pre-pubescent backside. He used the key to lengthen the skate all the way before tightening it down, whereupon he lodged the tome snugly on top, the long way, and voila! Instant skateboard. One trip down the hill beside our house, and the rest of us were chasing down skate keys and volumes of encyclopedia like a pack of cheap lawyers chasing ambulances. In no time we were careening down the sidewalk and clapping each other on the back for our cleverness.

What was my mother thinking, letting us profane the precious Britannica? I think she regretted buying the things, wishing she had known to buy the easier to read and infinitely more interesting World Book instead. Perhaps she figured the books would get more use on top of our skates than in our science reports. Or maybe she just didn’t have the will to stop us. Whatever her reasoning, she lodged a noisy protest into the air, and then left us do what we wanted, provided we agreed not to tell Dad. No problem we said, as she shook her head and waved us away.

A few hours later the novelty of riding skateboards down the sidewalk had worn off, and Mark was hatching another brilliant idea. This time his idea involved the neighbors’ driveway – their newly poured, doublewide, sparkling clean concrete driveway – and the burning need to build a make-believe city, populated by a modern, skateboard-riding citizenry.

Chalk. We needed chalk. No problem. Red Dirt Hill was a veritable gypsum mine. All we had to do was break off a hunk, wipe off the red dirt, and draw on the concrete. This method proved very unsatisfying. Our new city needed a stronger, bolder line. Mere chalk lines wouldn’t do, and Mark knew just the thing.

In the corner of our basement was a meager stack of shingles leftover from a roofing project the year before. Breaking off a manageable piece of shingle, one could notice that the tar in the middle of the shingle made a dandy marker, especially on concrete. Our city was born.

On the canvas of our neighbors’ concrete driveway we drew our town. Using bits of tar shingle, we outlined our houses, curbs, carports and streets. We drew parks and shops, stop signs and police stations. We drew neighborhoods, grocery stores, movie theaters and gas stations. We were brilliant. And when our city was finished, we scooted our skateboards along newly drawn streets, shopping and visiting and going to movies, and then parking our little cars in their carports and lying down on our newly drawn beds. It was a blissful afternoon of glorious make-believe, courtesy of our neighbors’ largesse.

The beauty of being seven instead of thirteen, and being one of the hangers-on instead of the one who should know better, is that no one expected me to know better. I do remember wondering what the word vandalism meant, however, and what the fuss was all about when our neighbors returned from vacation.

The aftermath of our magnum opus took place in a context outside my realm of concern – let’s put it that way. I have no knowledge, nor memory of how my brother was persecuted for his art, but I do remember participating in a futile attempt at scrubbing concrete on my hands and knees with soapy water and a brush, wondering why some people just don’t seem to get it.

And the invention of the skateboard? Evidently someone without a criminal past got the credit for that one, but we knew better.

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