Continued from last week:
After our parents had rejected our claim that we were no better than indentured servants, forced to perform odious chores like making our beds and picking up our clothes, my brother and I resolved to run away, this time for certain. I threatened to run away regularly, generally whenever something displeased me at home, which was about once a week.
“I’m running away,” I would announce.
“Good,” my mother said. “Just don’t be late for supper.” It was hard to be taken seriously around my house.
We had gathered the goods and supplies that I thought we would need, and one sunny Saturday in May, we made our move. We waited until after lunch, and hanging the clothespin bag with our stuff in it on the handlebars of my bicycle, we were ready. I had almost blown our cover by insisting that we take our jackets. Mom looked at us with the look she used when she knew we were up to something.
“Why are you wearing your jackets?” she asked. “It’s 75 degrees out.”
I knew we would need protection during colder months, which is why I wanted to take the jackets. “Uh, we’re cold,” I answered, and we jumped on out bicycles and pedaled off.
We soon got through our subdivision, and then the one behind ours, which was generally the extent of our travels. Some older kids had told us about a road that led to a railroad, where we planned to find a boxcar and live the rest of our lives. The road was paved at first, and then went to gravel as the pine trees around it grew thicker and crowded the edges. Finally it turned to two tracks of a dirt road, and then a single narrow path overhung by branches. We pedaled on.
After what seemed like a long time, we came into a clearing. It was a space about the size of our yard at home, hemmed in by a thick pine forest. And at the far end there was a set of railroad tracks which stopped at the edge of the forest. This was the place for our boxcar! Now if we could only find one.
We emptied our bag and dragged a couple of fallen logs over for seats. I told Ron we needed to gather firewood.
“Why?” he said. “I’m burning up in this stupid coat you made me wear.”
“We need a fire because that’s what you do when you’re on your own in the wilderness.” I had read perhaps too many Sergeant Preston of the Mounties stories, neglecting the detail that he operated in the Yukon. So, we picked up a few twigs and larger branches, cleared a space in the grass, and lit the fire. It wasn’t much of a fire, but it made me feel like we had arrived. The next step was to find a box car to live in.
“We need to find a box car to live in,” I announced, and Ron just looked at me like I had dropped in from another planet.
“How are we going to do that?” he questioned.
“Follow the tracks. There has to be a boxcar on the tracks somewhere.”
“How are we going to move it when we find it?”
“We’ll work that out when we come to it.”
In truth, both of us were tired from our exertions on our bicycles, so we sat there and watched the fire burn. After a while, I decided it was time to eat and pulled out the can of pork and beans and my Scout knife. One of the blades was a can opener, but it occurred to me that I didn’t know how to use it. I pried at the can for a while with no success. Then I banged it on a rock and succeeded only in denting it.
“We’re going to starve,” Ron offered.
“No,” I said. “We’ll eat pine cones and mushrooms. They’re all around us.” He made a face, and as the sun slipped behind the pines, it occurred to me that I wasn’t as ready to live on my own as I thought I had been. And if we left right then, we’d be home in time to eat. We climbed aboard our bikes and pedaled slowly back home.
My mom was in the kitchen. “We’ll eat in five minutes,” she said. “Wash up good. And please put my clothespin bag back on the line.” Well, I thought, only nine more years of indenture to go. At least we would eat well.