The Human Slingshot: Air Travel on a Dime

Something wonderful happens with limited funds: it’s called creativity. When my parents were married with five young children, they had plenty of creativity. It was the early 80’s. My mom was especially inventive, and my dad had a MacGyver–esque talent for problem solving.

Some of the things we learned from our parents:

  1. You don’t have to go far for memorable experiences and adventure.
  2. You don’t always need money for airfare; there are other ways to fly.
  3. Hospitals should offer punch passes. The eleventh visit is free!

Exhausted by the activity level of her children, my mom joked that it would be really great if there were a baby jumper big enough for the older kids. My dad considered it a challenge. Prototypes included strips of used tires, bungee cords from war surplus stores, industrial nylon, and surgical tubes.

For the debut bounce, we all loaded up in our 1983 Chevrolet Van and drove to a nearby park full of mature trees with good, consistent spacing. We ran around and played while my parents strapped the seat 15-feet above the ground to two large trees. This, they figured, would prove the best height for superior bounce performance. When it was time, we were all eager volunteers. The oldest brother won first dibs, as oldest brothers often do. Once he was secure, we were all invited to pull the straps of the harness between the trees as far as we could and release on 3 – 2 – 1 – GO!!!!

Everything went slow motion after that.

We were waiting to see how high he would bounce and if he would be able to push off the grassy surface below and return to a similar height. Imagine our surprise when his feet never found sod.

The safety harness around his lap (instead of over his shoulders as in future models) proved useless. The force of two adults plus three-and-a-half siblings pulling on the contraption made my oldest brother catapult through the blue skies until he landed (well, sort of) on a chain link fence. I never expected, at such a young age, to learn about aerodynamics and gravity so dramatically.

My brother cartwheeled down the fence like a drunk cat. When his body found the ground, he shook it off for a moment while we stood frozen. He ran back as fast as he could to the slingshot (definitely not a bouncer anymore) and said, “THAT. WAS. AWESOME! Lucky that fence caught my fall or I could have gotten really hurt.”

The rest of us couldn’t wait for our turn. Because in my childhood home, good times often involved great risk.

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