The Littlest Hobo

March 28, 2012

…you’d think that Mom (having been college educated and all) would’ve learned to NOT ask some questions of her offspring.

Particularly her favorite, the oft-repeated “WHAT in the world were you THINKING???”

I now suspect she really didn’t want an actual answer; but since The Question had been popped, I was only and always too willing to oblige with a complete and detailed explanation.

I typically was “thinking” about not just one, but many possibilities, simultaneously. Central themes included (a) forbidden foods (b) forbidden activities (c) forbidden experiments (including those likely to be banned once attempted) and (d) forbidden explorations. (Notice the common factor/attractor of ‘forbidden’.)

Once I became old enough to realize the attraction of (c) – a.k.a. the threat to Run Away from Home – I just couldn’t wait for an opportunity to strike out on my own. And as usual Mom walked right into one of my possibilities by suggesting that if I didn’t like what was being served at the breakfast table that morning, I could just leave home.

I not only couldn’t wait; I’d actually had my little bag packed for about a week, envisioning a glorious journey away from the nest much in the matter of ‘The Littlest Hobo’ (my father’s favorite TV show about a runaway wanderer dog) or, more likely, Abbott and Costello.

With dignity unusual for a 5-year-old I appeared at the kitchen door to announce my imminent departure.

A fact that apparently wasn’t believed, if my mother’s heaving shoulders and snickers were any indication.

What kind of mother wouldn’t try to STOP her child? What kind of mother would actually LAUGH at the appearance of a 5-year-old who had figgered out all the details of her escape, right down to the long stick (scavenged from a barrel in the basement which upon reflection looked less ‘woodsy’ and more like an old broomstick sans broom) with the small cloth bag (of snax) tied on in typical haphazard hobo style.

Obviously Mom presumed I had acted impulsively and had not really planned out my escape. What was she thinking??

I strode out the front door and with true drama made sure it slammed hard behind me.

Problem #1: I wasn’t a latchkey kid, yet. So, it locked. And the actual indignity involved in ringing the doorbell to be let back in from running away didn’t – well – escape me.

But aside from the burned bridge of possible return, I had the details down. I bravely marched down the long front steps, stick bag jauntily slung over my shoulder, stomped down the sidewalk, and turned the corner, fully aware that my mother was likely watching from behind the living room curtains. (I can only be glad YouTube hadn’t been invented yet!)

Once out of sight of a possible peeper, I walked merely two more doors away and bravely knocked at Mrs. McCall’s door. Now, I hadn’t actually spoken to her before. But actions speak louder than words and Mrs. McCall had a reputation for the best Halloween candy in the neighborhood; so even though we hadn’t actually shared much more than a grab-and-run session once a year, I figgered she was certainly no stranger to me.

THAT’s what I was thinking, anyways.

So when she opened her door and peered down at me, I took it upon myself to march right in and announce my arrival for ‘tea’. Mrs. McCall was a real nice lady. I gots: lemonade, chocolate, funny little cakes, toast, cheese, and great conversation. She appeared fascinated by my story of recent hobohood even as apparently she didn’t recall exactly which house I came from, nor our close – if not admittedly brief – associations at Halloween over the last few years.

When after 2 hours she became more specific about wishing to know more about my origins, I duly announced I didn’t wish to overstay my welcome and marched out the door I came in on, leaving her befuddled in a circle of plates and cups, still wondering just WHOSE child I was.

No worries – it was part of The Plan. And I had poured a LOT of prior thought into the matter.

2 doors further still lived Dr. Walters. Retired. A little deaf, a little daffy, and a whole lotta fun. Dr. Walters was the volunteer crossing guard near my school and I saw him at least twice a week: enough to certainly say I knew him well. So when HE answered his doorbell I walked right in and made myself at home. OH he was fun. There was a new litter of puppies. There was a colorful parrot in a cage with an equally colorful vocabulary. All manner of fish tanks. The man was hiding a virtual pet store behind the façade of a boring urban home and was MORE than happy to explore and explain it to me whilst also trying to wheedle out of me just WHOSE child I was and where I actually belonged.

Strangely, “I am The Littlest Hobo” – liberally borrowed from my favorite TV show – convinced nobody of my homelessness.

2 hours and a lot of doughnuts later I continued my progression, hitting on every door where I felt a relationship with a ‘trustworthy adult’ had already been established. These included: annual Halloween treaters, several PTA attendees, adults vaguely recognized from babysitter neighborhood walks, and a grocery store clerk.

It’s a good thing I began at breakfast time ‘cause I was literally gone all day: something my mother had NOT anticipated.

Only the inevitable propelled me home: Dad cruising the neighborhood in search of a wayward child my mother had lost (“what was she thinking, letting a small child run out the front door to wander the dangerous streets of San Francisco alone???”)

Only, I wasn’t lost.

I was stuffed.

I had renewed my casual acquaintances with about 5 neighbors, consumed massive quantities of sugary treats, and generally was pretty pleased with the entire Hobo Lifestyle, having had a delicious adventure AND resolved the perpetual ‘what are you gonna be when you grow up?’ question adults so loved to ask.

“What were you THINKING?” Mom kept asking me once my adventures had been thoroughly explored.

Well….If I hadn’t been thinking about the rich sweetness of life outside my front door before; I sure was thinking about it now….

Doughnuts and puppies and lemonade: oh my!

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