I think the desire to run away is a natural thing, almost a rite of passage. For those with strong family units the adventure is usually short lived. For example, my son ran away once, but he knew he wasn’t allowed to cross the street so all he could do was walk around the block until it was time to come home. But having said this -- I must acknowledge that there is an alternative reality I have never had to deal with.
Unfortunately, far too many families have children who’ve run away or gone missing and they never come home. Perhaps they seek escape without understanding they are usually escaping into a far worse reality than they are in, or perhaps worse. This happens and can not be discounted. It is easy to say we need to speak to our children more, but the reality is we never know exactly what our children may be going through and if it happens we are ill prepared.
The world is a dangerous place. I tend to think it is really not significantly more dangerous now than it was when I was a boy, but the constant news brings home the danger to everyone, scaring us into locking our doors and huddling in the hallway lest we be confronted by the bogyman. This story is not intended to open painful wounds or to encourage others to follow my example. If you've experienced a loss from a runaway I am truly sorry for that. May you find peace and comfort for your grief. I recommend you not continue on with this story.
We were living at 7 Madison Avenue. The house was a small two-bedroom affair, a starter home, with my parents in one room, my Grandmother in the other, and my sisters still in the room with my parents.
I had been relegated to the living room couch as a bed. Overall it wasn’t too bad since I could wake up early and see the farming shows that started the weekend programming. I think I learned more from those shows than almost anything else I watched on that black and white console television. For example, did you know it was common practice to rotate crops to keep the fields viable, or that most male calves are castrated?
In the freedom of youth I spent a lot of time exploring the area around the development. In the course of those explorations I found a wonderful wooded area with a pond and small caves in the natural rock formations. In looking at Google Maps the area is still there adjacent to St. Andrews road and not far from the last homes in the development. Of course neither St. Andrews road nor the homes were there in the late 50’s or early 60’s. On the satellite photo the lake is now covered with green, but at the time it was a dark black still body with a sense of mystery about it and a wonderful discovery that I am not sure how I came to find. I remember it had a shrine on one end so it must have been part of the St. Andrews Seminary. I know I rode my bike to the end of Holt Road and found some small path at the edge of a large dug out area. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin McNearny was with me, or perhaps even led me to this place. When we weren’t fighting we were best friends.
There were the rock outcroppings nearby with small caves in the hill that I imagined had been home to the native population, or perhaps even cavemen long ago. I thought it the perfect place to escape to… no one would ever find you in these vast woods. It was only years later that I would come to understand this area more closely matched A.A. Milne’s 100-acre wood of “Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh” fame, than the dark and vast wilderness of a 10 year old imagination.
I am not sure what momentous family catastrophe may have occurred, but somewhere along the line I decided the best thing was for me to run away and become a hermit living in one of those caves. I was in Cub Scouts at the time and had learned all about camping and preparedness. Heck, I even had a pack. So I made up my mind one Saturday in the summer to steal away and leave the family problems behind me.
The day before, I prepared for the life I was going to lead, packing five or six cans of soup, beans, or hash from the pantry into my official Boy Scout pack that had the famous knife, fork, spoon and aluminum plate dinner utensils. This would tide me over until I could trap my own wild game and live off the land.
I packed my official Cub Scout flashlight, and a change of underwear because I was definitely not coming back. I tucked the pack into a corner of the basement and returned to family life as if all was normal.
The night before, I went to bed on the couch and woke at first light, probably about 6 am. I quietly dressed, wrote a farewell note on a paper plate, slipped out the door and grabbed my pack from the basement. Mounting my bike I rode down the deserted streets of the neighborhood heading straight to my chosen cave.
Leaving my bike at the foot of the path I hiked into the cave and set about making my camp. It was only then I realized I didn’t have matches and couldn’t make a campfire to cook my food. What was I to do? We hadn’t studied fire making in Cub Scouts so I was at a real loss. Without the fire for warmth and to heat the soup I was sure I wouldn’t survive. Darn the luck! With no matches I had no choice, I must return home and put on a brave face to the family.
I walked back to my bike, pedaled back to the house, hid the pack, hid my note, and laid down waiting for my family to wake up. I think I was gone almost an hour. About an hour later my folks started to stir and I turned on the television. I wouldn’t run away again until after I graduated from High School, that time I made it stick for the four years of college, and the lifetime that followed.