The Greatest Childhood Toy that Ruined My Chance For A Great Smile!

This was branded as Flexi-Racer. It was called a Flexi-Flyer as a steerable snow-sled but with wheels for those of us who lived in snowless climes like Southern California. 

I called it my Flexi. My father thought I should not be deprived of the joys of sledding as he had done in the Midwest, so this appeared under the tree when I was about seven or eight. Kneeling on the board and pushing with my outboard leg, I could get up to a fair speed on flat sidewalks in front of my house. But the real fun was I lived across the street from the throat of a downhill cul-de-sac. Running the sidewalk down one side and coasting partway up the other, just to repeat over and over, took up a significant portion of my playtime!

The steering on a Flexi was a single-axle boxed frame with two rubber grips above the wheels. The breaks were a tab on the front of each handle that put pressure on the rubber tires slowing the wheels. Each had a tension spring to center the steering and the breaks “off” until you pulled up on the handles to stop.

Being a typical boy, I promptly removed the springs to give a quicker response and a smaller turning radius. However, if you did not keep a firm grip on the handles, the steering bar could whip to 90* dumping you at speed onto the pavement! Yeah! Great Fun!   (See Vid of what big boys could do!)

When I was older and all my teeth filled in, it was evident I would need braces to get my smile in order. I was always jealous of my oldest sister, Viv as she had an outstanding smile. My middle sister also had the snaggle tooth look as I did and she was wearing braces. I was going to be next in line. I can’t say I was looking forward to getting braces, but my self-image tended to be on the poor side. Sans a babysitter, I had to go with my mom when she took my sister to Loma Linda University Dental College, where we obtained cut-rate dental work, I looked at the photogenic smiles posted on the walls and didn't smile.

Camphor Way was developed about ten years after we had moved into the new suburban tract built on orange groves. The grove across the street was owned by the Franklins, of whom Bonnie Franklin, an actress even then, was a niece who often visited and hobnobbed with my oldest sister. Franklin's grove was unique as it had a rabbitry with cages located under the orange trees. On more than one occasion I wandered over to see the rabbits. Once I went into the rabbitry and saw pelts, rabbits' feet, and hanging carcasses. Bonnie led me back home again. It was a sight I still remember!  The Franklins eventually sold and the new subdivision was constructed.

With a moderately steep incline, my Flexi could reach a very satisfactory velocity if I gave it a running push and on my knee a few additional strokes with my leg. At the end of acceleration down the straight and not braking through the curve, I could coast a bit more than a third of the way up the other side before coming to a halt. Trying to push the Flexi by leg power uphill was a fruitless effort so I would grab the front bumper and haul it back to the top. Only to rinse and repeat until tired of walking back up.

I collected many scrapes, bumps, and road rash using my Flexi, yet they were nothing more than the payment for being a boy enjoying wheeled speed! Once I rolled over on an even steeper sloped outdoor covered passageway between a bank of classrooms at my elementary school on the weekend. I banged my head enough to see stars on one of those tables outside the classrooms where we put our lunch boxes until lunchtime. It took a while to recover.

One day, unbeknownst to me, my oldest sister decided to use my Flexi. Being six years older she was a teen she had no business playing with my toys on general principles Yet she did so, never having been instructed on its steering and braking though she had seen me operate it often...ugh! Girls!.

One day I was surprised by the big hullabaloo over my sister riding double with her friend from the house next door to ours. They flew straight down the middle of the street of the moderately steep cul-de-sac (instead of the sidewalk) and failing to slow or steer around the bulb, slammed into the curb, throwing Sis face-first into the sidewalk, breaking her two front teeth and lower jaw. The neighbor girl was lesser injured but I don’t remember to what lesser extent.

I remember thinking, as the most intelligent of us three kids, she was awfully dumb!

Sis spent about a week in the hospital getting her broken teeth stumps stabilized and her jaw wired shut for several months. Then another six months before she could go back to the dentist for caps. I thought the time her jaw was wired was something of a blessing. But I did feel sorry for her. She was my sister after all!

For months my dad put the Flexi up on the garage overhead, forbidding anybody to ride it. My pleas that my sister’s stupidity didn’t affect MY ability to ride it, but I now figure it was to avoid having it in sight of our neighbors. Unfair to groody max!  A year of traveling to the dentist when my mom took my sister for maxillary work bored me to tears. I hated looking at all those prissy smiles. 

When I was a teen and later as an adult, my smile seemed to be of lesser concern to me. I got into the habit of smiling without showing my teeth. It was who I was and I wasn’t about to spend all my own money to change what happened long ago. It became who I was and it didn’t matter. However, when kissing a girl I became somewhat uncomfortable!  I guess I was handsome enough if I kept my mouth shut!

I made a life-long friend with the Flexi when his parents came to summertime California for a church conference. I was about thirteen at the time and he was seven. He thought my Flexi was marvelous and rode it down Camphor Way constantly for the two weeks they were there. Later on, he came to work for me at our church camp for two years as my assistant. Seven years ago I moved and work for him as a retired part-time man Friday.

I kept my Flexi into adulthood, eventually renovating it; replacing the rotted wood with shaved and stained oak staves, fixing the metalwork, and powder coating it red. I found a guy to replace the rubber on the wheels. I also engraved the wood deck with “Ray's  FlexiIt went to my grandchildren along with my renovated “Pop’s Radio Flyer" wagon  (Unfortunately my pictures of both have gone missing through my divorce!)

To this day, when I see my Sister, I say “Smile Sis! I Love My Smile!