A Short Story of Leaving Home

In the 1960s, when my brother Doug and I were young, we often ran away from home. Angered by some perceived injustice, we’d tell our mother we weren’t going to take it anymore. We were running away.

“We’re leaving!” we’d announce.

She’d nod her head as if to say she understood and then pull bread from a drawer to make us peanut butter sandwiches. “Better take an apple, too,” she’d say.

 

Mom

 

In those early years, my family lived in a small granary town in northern Illinois. Poplar Grove had a grain elevator, grocery store, meat locker, post office, bank, bar, and filling station. The cemetery was on the outskirts of town. In the summer kids hit baseballs in the field behind the elementary school. During the winter we skated on a postage-stamp sized rink beside the dugout. My mother was Lutheran, but we attended the Methodist church down the street. We read books in the backyard mulberry tree. We slept in canvas pup tents on hot August nights, boys in one tent, girls in the other, pretending to be early American explorers. Our world was small.

 

 

Armed with sandwiches, Doug and I ran away from home via the back door crossing south to the grain elevator where we’d turn east to follow the railroad tracks to Capron. How far was Capron? Neither of us knew. What lay beyond Capron? Again, we hadn’t a clue. Our plan was simple. We would follow the tracks forever. Hobos did it regularly. The songs we sang in school attested to this. We’d walk the rails until we tired, and then hop a freight train and see the world.

 

 

In our new-found freedom, we kicked stones and balanced on the rails. We talked about what was important to us as we jumped the distance from one railroad tie to the other. Remembering caution, we’d put our ears to the tracks to listen for the rumbling vibration of approaching trains.

“How far do you think it is to Capron?” one would ask the other.
“I don’t know.”
“When do you think it’ll get dark?”
We’d scan the sky to get a position on the sun and shake our heads. “Don’t know. Not for a while.”
“No, not for a while.”
“Hungry?”
“Nah…well, maybe a little.”
“We could climb that shed and sit on the roof to eat.”
“Okay.”

Sandwiches eaten, we’d invariably start thinking of home.

“She’ll miss us,” one would offer.
“She will.”
“How long do you think before we get to Capron?”
“Not too long….”

We’d eye the railroad tracks that stretched into the distance without change.

“Maybe we should go home and give her another chance…she’s not so bad, for a mom.”
“She is bad! But she’s our mom. She’s probably sorry for treating us that way.”
“Probably.”

The walking got slower. We kicked fewer stones. Capron seemed a tremendous distance. How did someone jump a freight train anyway? Did we really want to eat beans from a can?

“Thirsty?” I’d ask. “We should eat our apples. That’ll help.”
“We should,” he’d agree.

Our world was small. The world was big. Apples eaten, we’d throw our cores into the brush and head for home.

 

Returning Home

 

 

 

 

 

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9 thoughts on “A Short Story of Leaving Home

  1. Loved this one…reminded me of my days of youth growing up in Green Bay. Until about 13 or 14 years old, we lived in the bottom of a big old house (rent was $75/month and included heat). The house was situated in a poor area of Green bay, with the street it was on parallel to a 4 lane highway. Across the highway was the single railroad track that went south all the way to Milwaukee. We used to walk those rails all the time (even my Mom, She was looking for asparagus in the late spring/early summer, wild strawberries later). I did actually hop freight cars, and go into cabooses (they were never locked, and even heated in winter). Never really tried running away from home, but loved that railroad track. Later my Mom bought a house, not too far away, near the railroad yards (huge) and we learned the fastest way to the Jr. High School or to downtown Green Bay was through the railroad yard. Downtown Green bay was on the other side of the Fox River from us, and the fastest way was to walk across the single track railroad bridge (terrified that a train would decide to come when you were halfway across). Early in life, pennies were too valuable, but as an adolescent, we occasionally put a penny on the rail when a train was coming, and then look for the squashed result. One time, I hopped into a boxcar on the move, the doors were usually open if they were empty. One corner of the car was full of shredded newspaper and the next thing I know, a huge bum is waking up and sees me.
    I didn’t even think, jumped out of the train in motion, got pretty scraped up, but lived.

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  2. I have to laugh. I ran away once from the tiny Kettle River farm. With only dirt roads and also having no idea where I was going or how far it was. I made it the 1/2 mile walk to the river. Returned home only to find out that my mother had allowed my sister and brother to divide up my stuff between them. My mother was not that forgiving to me leaving and I remember a long lecture when I returned.

    Thanks for posting a wonderful story.

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    1. Thank you so much for your story! Kettle River, Minnesota country is in a beautiful part of the state! My mother was so overwhelmed by the number of her children, and we ran away from home so often, she never took our departures as a true threat. Perhaps she knew we were just blowing off steam, itching for an adventure, expressing ourselves! And as adults, we are all adventurers in our own way. My mom is from Duluth — for those who don’t know, just a little northeast of Kettle River. This area is known for its adventurers. Perhaps it was in our genetic code and my mother knew she could do nothing but support our ventures with a sigh and stack of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed reading your story. My mum used to offer to help me pack my things in a doll’s suitcase, but I feel sure she too would remember it differently and tell me so if I wrote about it!

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    1. Thanks, Susan! My mom is still telling me she remembers this differently. I come from a largish family with many shared memories. A great life lesson learned early-on was that although we might have all been present at the same time on the same day for the same event, not one of us experienced the “same” moment. This recognition, I think, has made the world a richer place for me. Oh, and I stopped by your blog. Your flower and garden photographs are beautiful!

      Liked by 1 person

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