Monday, November 2, 2009


When the story about the 'balloon boy' all but halted the business of the nation for the requisite fifteen minutes last month, much was made of the fact that the boy 'disappeared' for six hours.

Six hours? When I was a kid growing up in Abilene, being out of sight for six hours was routine. On school year weekends and all summer long, I was a dawn-to-dusk outdoor kid. Checking in was a happenstance sort of thing, and, if I happened to eat lunch or dinner at a friend's house, it was common for me to be out all day. Not everyone had a phone nor was it common for kids to use it.

Times were different then, indeed, and though it was common for kids to be out all day unsupervised, given my particular propensity for wandering widely from the neighborhood, it's a wonder that the the police were not called in more than once to find me during my childhood.

There was one time that Lynda did call the police, however. I was nine. I had left the house early in the morning and did not return until after dark. I was gone for more than twelve hours.

I don't remember some very important things about that day, like what day of the week, or time of year it was, or why I even decided to do it that day, especially without telling my parents.

All I know is that one evening, I did decide to do it. It had to be in the evening, of course, because I know I planned it at least one day in advance. I know this because I am a planner. I plan everything; it's a habit that stretches back at least as far as this memory.

I remember that I was nine mostly because the story has been told over the years at family gatherings many times, reinforcing details like my age at the time and the fact that the police were indeed called. The fact that I never saw a policeman, either on my adventure nor when I arrived at home didn't raise any suspicion on my part till many years later, when it really better suited the story to have the cops involved than just a mad mom.

Oh and Lynda was mad. I'm getting ahead of myself here, but I can say that I've really only seen her madder at me one other time, and that time she hit me with a belt. That time (bouncing on the bed when I was six) was the one and only time she ever hit me. I didn't get hit after this incident, but believe me, I'd rather have gotten a beating with a belt than experience the angry tirade that faced me when I finally came home.

Given the admittedly casual oversight and potentially serious consequences that I was subject to, what then would have prompted me to stay out for more than twelve hours?

I was looking for a job.

I'll admit, today the thought of a nine year old boy making his way from business to business along a busy street akin to Austin's Burnet Road would today raise alarm bells for even me, but back then, it would have been merely amusing to all the workers in the gas station, pet shops, print shops, stationery stores, gift shops and heaven-knows-what-other kinds of businesses that I walked into and asked if they were hiring.

Even today I can recall their astonished reactions to my quest, which at the time only made me mad and more determined not to be rebuffed at my next stop. But the story was always the same. I'm quite sure I heard, "Are you kiddin' me kid?" more than once, and at least one guy said I should just come back when I was older. Boy, don't they wish.

Thinking back, I have no idea how I managed to eat or drink during that long day, but I do know that my only means of transportation was my feet, so it just took a whole lot longer to get home than I thought it would. Which means that it was well past dark when I got home to a fuming Mom, a bewildered Dad and no supper.

Actually, Lynda came and brought me supper in my room later. She probably felt guilty about having scolded me so harshly and was likely more than a little intrigued by my adventure. She quizzed me for what seemed like hours, then let me eat my dinner in my room by myself. Strangely I even remember the meal: cold fried chicken and mashed potatoes.

My reaction to the whole adventure has deeper roots than I have ever actually acknowledged before. I've long known that because of Bill's failure to hold a steady job and (thanks to Lynda) my awareness of our family's ever precarious finances I have always been obsessed with working, but I had forgotten just how long ago that obsession took hold.

Thanks to that obsession, I'm often still out of the house for twelve hours or more, but at least now my family knows where I am.


bc said...

Great adventure--good story! Such a good bad boy...

valgal said...

we all appreciate your wonderful work ethics now, phellup ;)