Wednesday, August 7, 2013


One fine day during the summer of 1948, when I was barely six and my sister three and a half, we decided to visit Nana, our maternal grandmother, in Brooksvillage. We thought we knew the way, and probably did, having been driven there many times. We had no concept of the four or five mile distance.

We set out westward on the sidewalk by our house, which quickly contracted to a ribbon and then dwindled still further until it wasn't much more than an indentation in the grass. We knew it did that, and cheerfully held on our way for maybe a quarter of a mile. Just past a small brick house where a group of boys on the porch jeered at us, a trickle of water flowed down from the house and rippled along the groove that should have been the sidewalk. For some reason, the water daunted me. I suggested turning back.

We retraced our steps, pausing to slide down the bank beside the sidewalk. It was by this time nearly 6:00, and the afternoon sun poured full upon the warm grass. As we were thus amusing ourselves, a car pulled up on the other side of the street and our father called to us to come over there and get in. Route 68 was not then as it is now. With a go-ahead from him, we ran across. He asked what we were doing there, and we told him about our plan to visit Nana. He said little, with the kind of seriousness that tells a kid that something is amiss and that said kid is going to get it.

We arrived at home to find our mother frantic with worry. She must have been ready to cry with relief when we all walked in the door. Dad's mother, who also lived in the house, was sternly concerned and berated us for "running away." We were sent to bed without supper, although something was brought to us later; my parents wouldn't have starved their children however much we deserved it.

I remember my sense of bitter desolation, looking out my window through my tears at a young pine tree in the corner of the field (it has since become an old and craggy pine tree; a white pine can grow a lot in sixty-odd years). My gaze turned to a favorite toy, a pink plastic horse that moved somehow. I vividly remember having no interest in it. I was overwhelmed by the injustice of it all. We weren't "running away" -- we were going to visit Nana. We hadn't known we were doing anything wrong.

     The next day, Mother walked us up the sidewalk to a road sign -- NO PASSING -- and declared that this was now our limit. Then she took us in the other direction to the corner of the Winchendon Road, which was to be our limit that way. A later rule allowed us the run of the field beside and behind the house, but we were to stop at the stone wall a few yards into the trees. Of course we knew better than to attempt to cross or set foot in any roads. With ground rules clearly established, we never "ran away" again.

     There is something archetypal about this memory. I was always getting in trouble for something it never occurred to me would be a problem. It still happens occasionally.