I was a 3-year-old babe the first (and last) time I ran away from home. It all started when my mother promised to take my brother and me to the May Festival at the Broadway school.
Ah, the May Festival. Alas, it is no more, and I doubt any young people have even heard of it. But to me and the tykes of my generation, it was a wondrous event.
Its focal feature was the kindergartners, dressed in white, skipping out of the school and into the playground to musical accompaniment, strewing flower petals every-which-way. Then, when the flowers were gone, they danced gaily around the maypole.
The tradition was actually thousands of years old - a pagan fertility rite, in fact. Of course, none of us knew it at the time or it would've been banned like the works of Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence - and for the same reason. I only knew it was the highlight of spring, perhaps even the year, and something I was supposed to see.
Unfortunately, of all days, my brother picked that one to get sick, so we had to stay home with the patient. Or at least we were supposed to stay home with him - in my case the lure of the May Festival proved overwhelming.
A not-so-great escape
My escape was hardly noteworthy - I simply slipped out the back door and headed south. What was noteworthy was my getting to the Broadway School all by my lonesome. To someone still without a sense of direction, I'm still boggled by my kiddie navigation skills.
Anyhow, I arrived a the school, all agog at the crowd of parents, teachers and kids, at the sounds, and of course, at the maypole itself, with its pink and white crepe paper streamers floating in the breeze.
I just stood there grooving on the huge high of having proved myself a boy of the world.
Unfortunately, that high lasted mere minutes, when a troubling realization dawned on me: Even though I found my way to the school just fine, I had no idea how to get back. And once I realized that, my elation fled like a thief in the night, leaving me as you'd expect - scared, lonely and miserable.
Suddenly, the crowd I'd been so overjoyed have joined became huge, hostile and harrowing. The adults turned 9 feet tall; their eyes became death rays, their teeth became fangs and their hands became claws. The kids, while smaller, were no better - a bunch of vicious little snipes who hadn't yet pummeled me senseless, only because they hadn't seen me. The music had become into a horrid screeching, and even the maypole had turned on me, its streamers now making a faint derisive sound, as if having a laugh at my expense.
Somehow, I didn't burst into tears. Instead, I checked my surroundings, looking for an escape route. While I'd come down Broadway, I couldn't return that way, since the crowd was now jam-packed between me and the Broadway exit.
That left only one way out - a dirt path behind the school. With my heart pounding and my breath coming in gasps, I started up the path. It led uphill to Garden Street, and once I got there, I had the strange feeling I'd been there before. Deja vu? Hardly. The more I looked around, the more familiar things became. Then it hit me - I had been there before!
This was where I'd played with my pal Robin Smith, at his grandparents' house, which was now right in front of me.
I looked around some more. Other things seemed familiar the big elm tree on the corner, the clothesline by the yellow house, the brick garage, and suddenly I hit pay dirt. On my right was a field, in the middle of which was a huge birdhouse on a pole. It was the only one like it I'd ever seen, and I'd seen it a whole lot, since it was right in back of my house!
and a not-so-great return
I immediately tore off in the direction of home. Unfortunately, mid-sprint and mid-frenzy I lost my balance, plowed into a curb and got sent sprawling on the sidewalk.
When I slid to a stop, I got up and woozily surveyed the damages two mildly scraped palms and two well-scraped knees. Any other time, such wounds would've reduced me to tears, but with home sweet home only moments away, I felt no pain at all. (a situation that was about to change momentarily).
While my epic adventure from the time I left home till the time I returned seemed like forever to me, in real time it couldn't have been more than a half hour or so. And since my mother had been taking care of my brother, she didn't notice I was gone till shortly before I returned.
But once she noticed I was MIA, she followed a predictable course. First she checked the house from top to bottom. Then she went out and asked the neighbors if they'd seen me. After that, she went out to the backyard, where she saw trundling through the field none other than the Prodigal Son.
It's a well-established fact that many '50s parents raised their children with gentle Dr. Spock as their guru and his book as their bible, but my mother sure wasn't among them. In fact, when I got to the back door, what my mother had in her hand was not a copy of Dr. Spock's book - it was a nylon hairbrush.
Lest you wonder, the hairbrush was NOT to smooth out my tangled long blonde locks in an effort to calm my frenzied soul. In fact, it never even got close to my head. Instead, my mother used it to drill home a lessonas well as a thousand tiny holes in my tender tuchis.
Had the enlightened Dr. Spock been there, I'm sure he would've been outraged at my mother's handling of the situation. But had his enlightenment been genuine, I'm sure he would've kept his outrage to himself especially if my mother still had hairbrush in hand.