I ran away from home when I was eight. I am not sure of the reasons now, but undoubtedly, I felt hard done by, felt the weight of life’s injustice on my young shoulders. My siblings’ ice cream serving may have been larger than mine or I was sent to bed too early, the burden of being the youngest too great to bear. I hated mashed potatoes which was a regular on the menu. My mother was forever cutting my hair just when it got to ponytail length. The music from Perry Mason terrified me on Saturday evenings after I had just gone to bed, the theme song surging up the stairs to find me under the covers of my bed. There were many options, all reasons for my attempted escape.
Early one morning, I packed an orange, an apple, and a slice of bread, along with a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, a Lone Ranger book, and a deck of cards into a Safeway paper bag. It was November. I obviously had big travel plans regarding the notion of relocation. I fed the bread to my dog, the apple to my pony, and ate the orange before I was a mile down the road. Forgive my British imperial unit of measure; the metric system was only introduced that year at school, and I hadn’t yet made the transition.
Just past the fourth farm from my own, the November wind got under my collar and snow began to fall. It was still dark, and I began to shiver. My shoulders slouched, my chin dropped, and my stomach complained. I retraced my steps, put my pony in the barn, settled my dog into the shed, and crawled back into my Saturday morning bed, still warm, before anyone knew I had been considering a life on the run. My pony was barely willing to muster a fake trot in those days, so speed wasn’t an option. I don’t recall planning another escape to find a better life. I decided the life I had was pretty good despite having my mother for a principal.
The story of my brother’s wandering ways was told and retold when I was growing up. He was three and my parents lived in the apartments on Nelson Street, between Victoria and Armit. He packed his miniature-sized blue steamer trunk complete with his favourite toys. He placed the trunk in his red wagon. I’m not sure what other items he deemed essential, but I believe my mother helped him pack. She probably gave him some helpful hints. He lugged his wagon out the door and dragged it down the street. He wandered down Nelson Street and up Armit Avenue and I’m not sure how far down Church Street he got before hunger got the better of him. He knocked on someone’s door and said he had come for “pupper” though it was only just after lunch. They welcomed him in, despite his poor grasp of the English language, and despite not knowing who this small vagrant at their door was. At age three we haven’t really had enough time to establish ourselves in the society of our neighbourhood. They walked him up and down the streets and as they progressed east on the north side of Church Street, my brother pointed out the home of my Grandma and Grandpa Stewart. Busted. That was in the days before we thought children were on the brink of being kidnapped at every turn. In the actual story, my parents may have been strolling a safe distance behind him. I like to think he was on his own, bravely going where no three-year-old had gone before. It makes the story more gripping.
Some days I wish I could run away from my perceived problems, strike out and leave my unfortunate self behind and find a brand-new version of me. But as we all know, we are obligated to bring along our old self when we change locations. Our shadow holds firmly to our bad habits, our weaknesses and foibles, our disappointments, and our failures. There is no way to separate ourselves into those pieces we like and those we don’t. We are a package deal, no matter how far we roam or how fast we might run. The vision of eight-year-old me trudging through the snow down the side of the river road with a paper bag filled with her worldly belongings makes me smile and ache a little. I obligated my pony and the family dog to accompany me on this courageous or cowardly trip, depending upon your perspective, without giving them choice or discussion. My pony may have grumbled but he was always a bit of a Grumpy Gus. Perhaps a snowy walk is all we need to right the ship.