Running Away From Home

Sara Etgen-Baker

© Copyright 2023 by Sara Etgen-Baker
        Photo of Sara on her Schwinn bike.            
            Photo of Sara on her Schwinn bike..

North Texas summers are hot and dry and generally quite humid. And in the summer of 1959, the scorching sunlight and intense heat ignited one of the worst droughts on record. The sidewalks sizzled and roasted my bare feet, and the heat permeated the already parched ground in front of our home leaving huge cracks and crevices. The grassy lawns—yellow and burnt—smelled like bales of hay that had been sitting in the summer fields too long.

We couldn’t afford air conditioning; and even though the air outside was motionless, Mother opened the windows wide every morning. As each day progressed the oppressive heat thickened, singing the air in our tiny two-bedroom home making it feel stagnant and suffocating. So I often spent my summer days sitting by the open windows reading a book and—despite the still air—smelling the sweet aroma of mother’s honeysuckle vines.

Occasionally, I escaped outdoors riding my bike up and down the neighborhood streets pedaling at white heat speed until I could feel bursts of warm air blowing across my face and shoulders. When I stopped, though, I could both feel and see the heat waves rising around me—baking my bones and melting the rubber tires on bike.

I thought about riding my bike to the city pool and jumping into the cool, refreshing water. But I stopped, for I knew better than to go without asking Mother. So, I pedaled home as fast as I could and offered her my seemingly simple solution to the summer heat.

It’s soooo hot, Mama! May I go swimming today?”

No, sweetie, you may not. It’s too expensive to go swimming.”

But I want to go swimming; all the other kids are going swimming. Pleeease, Mama, please!”

No!” Mother wrinkled her eyebrow. “Don’t ask me again!”

I pouted, stomped my foot, and shouted, “Well, fine! I’m running away from home—to Granny’s house. I bet she’ll take me swimming.” I stormed into my bedroom and slammed the door—a huge mistake. My mother had zero tolerance for back talking and door slamming. “What was I thinking?”

Surprisingly, Mother didn’t immediately appear at my door. She eventually flung open my bedroom door brandishing a doll suitcase and ceremoniously tossed it onto my bed. “If you’re going to run away, you’ll need a suitcase.” She yanked open one of my dresser drawers. “Here, let me help you pack a few things.” Mother grabbed a change of clothes and my pajamas then closed the lid of the suitcase. “I’ve called your grandmother, and she’s expecting you. Oh,” she turned and faced me, “here’s a sack lunch with a peanut butter sandwich and bag of potato chips. Now, give me your wrist.”

Mother tied one of her delicate handkerchiefs around my wrist. “Be careful with this handkerchief. Inside it is 25 cents so you can stop along the way and get something to drink.”

I was speechless and dumbfounded as she took my hand and escorted me out the front door placing my lunch sack and tiny suitcase in the rear saddlebags of my bike. She hugged me and waved goodbye. “Call me when you get to Granny’s house. Remember I love you.”

Mother calmly turned around and marched inside the house, closing the screen door behind her. Although my ego was bruised, I had to save face. I was left with no other choice but to hop aboard my bike and ride away. So, I drove to a nearby park; camped under a huge shade tree; cried; and fell asleep listening to the locusts’ soothing summertime lullaby. When I awoke, I smelt Mother’s handkerchief; it smelled like her. I knew I had to go home.

As I pedaled home I wondered what I should say and do if Mother would, in fact, let me back home. I parked my bike adjacent to the house; removed the suitcase and sack lunch; then gingerly opened the screen door. When I entered the living room, mother momentarily looked up from her crossword puzzle. “Glad you’re home.”

I returned to my bedroom; unpacked my suitcase; and ventured back to the living room where I snuggled next to Mother on the couch. She hugged me in silence, smiled, and kissed me on the forehead. Thankfully, Mother was not prone to indignation, guilt, or “I told you so.” Running away is not the solution for disappointment, frustration, and anger—a life lesson lovingly taught without Mother ever saying a word.

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