It was not a good sign when my Mom volunteered to pack me a lunch when I threatened to run away from home. I found a hobo stick that was longer than I was tall that would serve as a multipurpose tool of sorts. One on end, I’d wrap up all my worldly possessions in a knapsack.
On the other end, I whittled a spear-like point so I could impale any charging lion that I might encounter along the journey. I was planning on running a long way from home and end up hanging with the Maasai in Africa. I knew missionaries there that treated ten-year-olds far better than my Mom treated me.
I don’t recall all the egregious methods of parenting my Mom was dog-piling on me, but making me eat liver-and-onions was the final straw. I had had enough; every man has his limit of enduring torture and mine was liver-and-onions.
I anticipated my announcement causing more reaction than it did. I hoped Mom would drop down on bended knee and apologize for making me eat liver-and-onions or, at the very least, drive me to Rosalia to spend the night with Kendall and Annie. She didn’t even look up from ironing Dad’s t-shirts while she was watching General Hospital.
Yes, she ironed my Dad’s t-shirts. And underwear. It was a different era.
Me: “I’m running away from home.”
Me: “I mean it this time. I’m leaving and never coming back.”
Mom: “Want me to pack you a lunch?”
Me: “Yes, please, I’d like a bologna sandwich.”
Mom: “Don’t forget to wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident.”
Mom could never come up with sound reasoning for why a person needed clean under wear on in case of an accident, so I went to the Oracle, my Dad.
Me: “Dad, why does a person need clean underwear on in case of an accident?”
Dad: “I’m not sure; I’ve never figured that out, either. When an accident happens, first you say it then you do it so the underwear end up soiled anyway. Go ask your Mom again.”
Furthermore, I had a variety of fears that I kept around like pets. I’d feed and water them to make sure they stayed healthy and sometimes rescued a few from euthanasia. Occasionally, a visiting evangelist or missionary would drop off a new fear like a stray dog abandoned along our highway. It might be a picture of a nuclear warhead in Russia that was aimed at our house or a tribe of cannibals ready to boil me in beans, but I’d adopt that fear as my own. Being a good little Christian boy, those fears gave me a new way of feeling bad about not having enough faith, which ended up being a good thing after all. Feeling guilty about not having enough faith was genuine proof that I was a believer. I might make the rapture after all.
When my pet fears heard I made the decision to run away from home, they all threw a party and invited friends. They scrambled out of their cages and started jumping up and down; Oh, boy, this sounds like fun! I wanna go! I wanna go! Pick me! Pick me! I always had a hard time choosing teammates on the playground so I just decided to let them all go with me.
Therefore, preparation for the trip was based on what fear was the largest. Although missing the rapture was my perennial favorite of all-time-worst-fears, a different fear took center stage for my journey: the dark. I’d developed a nervous tic after watching The Skull with Jeff in New York when he took me to new levels of fear of the dark.
The epic journey required serious decision-making. What kind of things lurked in the dark? What kind of weapon would I need? Where would I find water along the way? How much food could I get in my knapsack? What if I run out of clean under wear?
I concluded that whatever was in the dark that posed an imminent threat could be dealt with in one of two ways: a bow-and-arrow for the long shots and a tomahawk for hand-to-hand combat. Fortunately, I had both in my arsenal.
The bow was a green fiberglass longbow about a foot taller than me. I’d collected enough nickels from the sale of pop-bottles so I bought the primitive weapon at T.G.&.Y. I purchased it to hunt on the prairie, but had yet to fine-tune my marksmanship to be a serious threat to anything other than a hay bale or the Cows of Hobson’s Pond.
Although I’m sure I could have hit one of the Cows, I knew better. After watching me practice on hay bales, they rightfully concluded that I might be scheming to take a shot at them.
Cows: “Hey McNary kid. You’re not planning on trying to shoot us with that are you?”
Me: “Um, well, it depends. You chase me through the pasture again and I just might.”
Cows: “You do realize, you little idiot, that there are more of us than there are of you. You might get one of us, but we’ll get you. And besides, we have a direct line to Jesus and if you try to take a shot at us, we’ll tell him to rapture every one else but leave you behind.”
The Cows knew where to find my soft underbelly.
The tomahawk was a real flint-knapped stone that we found in a field. Plowed fields in Kansas sometimes reveal treasure troves of ancient Native American artifacts like flint arrowheads, hide scrapers, drills, knives and, yes, a tomahawk head. We found the head, fashioned a stick to make a handle like we’d seen in various drawings, then covered it with blood from big, fat, gray ticks we’d pull off our dogs. We wanted it to look like we’d actually scalped a human being.
It was a communal tomahawk that Kendall and I shared and, yes, we lost it. Leave it up to a dumb little country kids to loose a thousand-year-old artifact. Oh, how I wish I had that back.
After much consideration, I finally chose the necessary items for the journey, rolled them up in a knapsack and tied it to my stick. I put on clean underwear, grabbed the bow, stuck the tomahawk in my belt loop, and bid my Mom farewell.
Me: “I’m leaving now. I’m running away from home.”
Mom: “Did you get your bologna sandwich?”
Me: “Yes, thank you. Can I take one of your bottles of Pepsi, too?
Me: “Okay, well, I’ll be leaving now. Tell Dad not to come looking for me when he gets home.”
Mom: “Okay. Call or write when you get wherever you’re going.”
I don’t know if I was expecting her to wail, bargain with me, or throw a farewell party, but I was a bit put off with her apparent lack of interest.
Little boys have no sense about what time of the day it is. Unlike my forbears who could look at the sun and tell you it was a-quarter-past-two, I only knew what time of the day it was by my Mom.
It’s time to get up.
It’s time to brush your teeth.
It’s time for lunch.
It’s time to come inside; it’s going to be dark soon.
It’s time to put on clean underwear.
Once outside, I checked my compass and set a course for due east along Highway 54. It was late summer and the withered grass would make the trek easy.
I made it about two-hundred-yards and noticed something quite disconcerting; it was getting dark.
Mom: “Back so soon?”
Me: “Yeah, I forgot to pack extra underwear.”
Mom: “They’re in the dryer now; you’ll have to wait ‘till tomorrow.”
Me: “Well, I really hate to, but I don’t want to be in an accident without clean underwear.”
Mom: “That’s very wise of you. By the way, I made some extra chocolate pudding while you were gone. Want some?”
Me: “Oh, I suppose.” Chocolate pudding was my kryptonite.
Mom: “Good, I’ll get some whip cream for it too. There’s always tomorrow to do what you started today.”
A big bowl of chocolate pudding with whip cream and a good night’s sleep gave me pause to reconsider my plans. Mom came into my room the next day as I was packing.
Mom: “Here’s clean underwear for you.”
Me: “Thanks, that’s what I was waiting on. I can go now.”
Mom: “That’s probably best. I’m fixing liver-and-onions for dinner again tonight and I know you hate them.”
Me: “Yes, yes, I do.”
Mom: “But if you stay, I can fix you a hamburger.”
Every man has a price for which his principles can be bought or sold. Mine was a hamburger.
I never attempted to run away from home again. And, to this day, I never leave home without wearing a clean pair of underwear.
PHOTO: Springtime on the Prairie- I took this photo east of Cassoday, Kansas, in the Flint Hills. Thousands of cattle sprinkle the prairie as ranchers fatten them on lush green grasses.
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