Winning the foot race at the ball field was all that I could think about the week before fireworks-spectacular Fourth of July 1969. That, and winning the best decorated bike contest. I was convinced that I would win the foot race, but I needed some help. I decided that to be the fastest runner I needed new sneakers. Mine were old, ripped up and stained from hunting frogs with my brothers in the muddy glen at the end of our street. But only red sneakers would do. Red was faster, better.
After much convincing (whining) to my mother, she caved and took me to Shuster’s Shoe store on the White Horse Pike. I immediately picked out a pair of shiny red Keds. The white laces gleamed against the bright red canvas. They even smelled good! As soon as I got home I ran down the street, my face a wide grin of hope and expectation. My feet were flying. The sneakers were magical and sure to bring me luck. I imagined myself up on the podium receiving my award. There was no way that I could loose, not as long as I had my new sneaks.
On the morning of the race, I pedaled my bike down Stone Road, checking my speed so I didn’t run into anyone. I glanced at the other contestants on either side of me. My bike is the prettiest, I smugly told myself. The green, pink and white tissue paper flowers and streamers flapped in the wind, cheering me on to the finish line. And the red umbrella that I had attached at the last minute to the back of my banana seat was going to bring me added luck. If not, my red socks would do the trick.
At the ball field, I wiped the sweat off my brow in the hot afternoon sun. I wouldn’t let the sweltering heat deter me from my quest as I stood in line with the other runners waiting for the cap gun to go off. Every muscle in me had tensed. I kept my eyes focused on the finish line a hundred yards in front of me. I had to prove to myself that I wasn’t a loser, or some other nasty name that my second grade teacher Mrs. Wright had called me during the torturous school year from hell. She made me stand in the corner once, in front of the entire class. I was completely humiliated. But now I was determined to prove her wrong. My red sneakers were going to fix everything.
BANG! My legs pumped hard as I bolted across the field. I had taken the lead. I was the first one out. I couldn’t believe it. My lungs had expanded to take in more air as my body moved like the wind. My feet barely touched the ground. The finish line was ten yards away. And then the cheering in my head had suddenly stopped. A boy blew past me and crossed the finish line first. I had lost. Crushed, I left the field in tears and sobbed in my mom’s arms. What had I done wrong? I didn’t even win a prize for my bike.
The following year I bought a pair of purple sneakers, and I got a new bike: purple. I even painted my walls purple. Yeah, purple.