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.
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.”
“Nah…well, maybe a little.”
“We could climb that shed and sit on the roof to eat.”
Sandwiches eaten, we’d invariably start thinking of home.
“She’ll miss us,” one would offer.
“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.”
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.