He was only about four or five the first time he ran away. The reasons are not clear to me, but I remember that he took his most precious possessions along - his dogs and his tricycle. He knew it was wrong to cross the street, so he ran away around the block by making a right turn each time he reached the corner. Our block was normal one way, but it was about a mile long the other way, reaching clear to the shopping center without an intersection. He had made two right turns before I missed him, and by the time I discovered him all I could see down the distant block was the two black dogs, bobbling around as they sniffed from one side to the other of the sidewalk.
The second time he ran away, he didn't go very far, but he went violently. He had been home from school for a week with a deep chest cold, and he wanted to serve his papers in the midst of a blind, whirling snowstorm.
"Don't be ridiculous," I told him. "The exposure would be enough to keep you home for another week. You stay here and take care of your brothers, and I will serve your papers the same as I have been doing all week."
What a fiasco that was! The papers were late, and when they did arrive, I couldn't find them. The route manager used a different stop in storms. When I finally did locate them, I let the wind get hold when I released the wire, and a large portion of them went flying in a thousand directions. While I was trying to recapture what I could of those, the others got wet. My fingers and feet were numb, and I was tired and defeated when I arrived home to find chaos.
Angry at me, my first born son had pushed his brothers around in my absence so they were in tears. Although it was an hour past dinnertime, he had done nothing about feeding them, and we were all hungry. My husband had managed to phone that he was stranded in the storm and would get home eventually.
Needless to say, this child and I had words, violent ones. I finally slammed into the kitchen to fix a meal of sorts. After I had eaten, I felt better and went into his room to see why he had not joined us for the meal. He was rolling up his sleeping bag.
"What on earth are you doing?" I asked.
"I'm going to sleep out," he said.
"You're surely not serious!" I exclaimed."
"Yes I am," he replied, "and you can't stop me!"
I let my husband eat after he finally got home before I told him of the crisis. We accosted the child together, but in vain. Reason played no part in the situation. We could have tied him in bed, I suppose, but we didn't consider trying. We left the door unlocked when we went to bed, and he sneaked in to the sofa sometime in the night.
Sometimes dark gives light, and by morning I knew. "I've served my last paper for you," I told him when I arose. "The next time you need help, hire it." I had neglected my own responsibilities in trying to help him. He was running from my lack of wisdom, and he was right.
The third time he ran away, he wasn't angry. He just wanted to see if he could get along on his own. "What would you say if I took off on my own sometime?" he had asked.
"Well, it could be a good experience for you," I had replied cautiously. "Why don't you take a hike along the Appalachian Trail?"
And then one day he was gone. It was the day after school was out his junior year in high school. I understood why, and, I wasn't too much worried. He would call us if he got into trouble, but unfortunately he had taken Chuck along. Chuck's mother had said, "Good rid dance of bad rubbish," when he had approached her. Now she was worried about what people would say if anything happened and she hadn't notified the police; and she wasn't sure that Chuck, who was only twelve, could take care of himself.
"They won't book your son if you don't call them," she assured me, "but I just feel like I have to report Chuck." So she did, and I worried about that quite a bit. A police record is a hard price to pay for a spirit of adventure.
I needn't have worried. The police never saw them. The boys came back in a week or so, quite proud of themselves. They had hitch-hiked to the ocean with a drunken driver. The season was cold, and they hadn't even taken a jacket along so they built a fire on the beach and got the sand warm. Then they buried themselves in the warm sand to sleep. They spent their meager funds for canned beans because they were so cheap and filling. Rides were hard to get coming back, and they had to hike much of the time, but they made it back on their own, one big giant step closer to manhood.
The last time he ran away I sent him. He threw something at me in anger. I dodged, but I told him to get out until he could treat me with respect. It was winter, and he was wiser by now. He took his jungle hammock and pitched it in the forest near our home. I don't know how he ate, but he slipped in every morning after we had left and cleaned up for school. After a week of this, he came home and went out and got a job. He was growing up, and the apron strings were tied in a hard knot neither of us could break gracefully.
None of these escapades were precipitated by a desire for escape from problems. They were more a statement of self, a need to express by action what words could not impart. The bonds of love which were between us, I suppose, are the tightest bonds of all. The harder we pulled, the tighter they grew. It took fire to melt them.