|2. LOST (1957)
The call of adventure began early for me. At three and a half I found a nickel lying around the house and set off to spend it at a nearby market.
I knew the way from going there with Mom. Crossing a footbridge over the railroad tracks and then a busy four-lane arterial where I could see Jack’s Market on the next corner. It was a beautiful sunny morning and Jack didn’t raise an eyebrow as I came in, picked up my penny candy: Bazooka Joe bubblegum, two red licorice sticks and a sour apple sucker and laid them on the counter.
I turned the wrong way upon exiting the store in hopes there was an easier crossing to get back and lost my bearings in no time. My parents were frantic by this time; my father scouring the neighborhood in his car while Mom stayed near the house in hopes I’d turn up or someone might bring me back.
They had a lot to worry about. The railroad tracks were two blocks away and the ship canal a couple blocks further. This area, known as “the Flats” was semi-industrial with sheet glass factories, tool and die firms and metal fabricators scattered among the low rent houses that made up the neighborhood.
Now that none of my surroundings looked familiar I started to become worried. My sense of direction having failed me, I could only hope that the road ahead somehow would wind back around and I could get home okay. So I pushed on and eventually saw the guard station at the entrance to Fort Lawton, the US Army Reserve Post on the Western edge of Magnolia Bluff in Seattle. The guards must have been preoccupied with someone else because somehow I got past the guard station and started up the long hill that led into the restricted grounds. Dad was a Master Sergeant in the Reserves and served at Fort Lawton but I still had no idea where my home was from here.
By this time I’d eaten most of my candy and was working on the bubblegum. The sweet flavor and bubbles I blew were keeping me distracted from my dilemma but I needed to pee and knew I was hopelessly lost. After walking another fifty yards I came to the soldier’s cemetery with rows upon rows of white marble markers of death. I realized that going further would only cause me to be more lost and I sat down by the edge of the road and started to cry.
An official, olive-green sedan pulled over going the opposite direction and a black man in uniform called over to me, “Hey, Are you all right?” “I can’t find my way home” I blubbered with cheeks now stained by running tears. “Where do you live?” he said as he ushered me into the passenger seat of his car. This was the first time I’d ever spoken to a black man and his voice was soft and soothing. I thought it a strange question to ask since if I knew where I lived I wouldn’t be lost would I? “Just keep driving,” I said, feeling so much better to be safely aboard and knowing that I’d be home soon. In those days I wore a bracelet with my numbers on it but was in such a worried state that I didn’t think to look at it. Neither did my savior.
“Does anything look familiar?” said the black man as I desperately looked for some landmark that might give me a clue. “Just keep driving” I responded. Somehow, miraculously, we pulled down my street and I saw my mom standing in the front yard scanning the block. I was overjoyed but in horror of the discipline I knew would be coming my way. Without even thanking the soldier, I bolted from the car as he pulled over and buried my head in my mom’s kneecap. She asked the soldier to wait for a moment and took me inside. After a quick trip to the toilet she took me to my parent’s bedroom. “Stay here until your father returns” she said as sternly as she could but I could tell by her relieved tone that she was more thankful than angry.
Usually, when my brothers or I misbehaved, we would either get a spanking or we’d get a lecture. This time I got both, in spades. There wasn’t the same look of relief on my father’s face when he got home and came into the bedroom. I’d been too scared to turn on the lights and with the curtains pulled it was pretty dark in there. He was plenty relieved but his red face signaled the discipline to come. “How could you just walk off like that?” he said with exasperation as he ran his hand through his now graying hair. “I’m sorry” I whimpered, “I was going to be right back”. I knew by instinct that if I feigned crying that he might console me instead of spanking so I let my tears flow. “I’m sorry” I repeated, “I’ll never do it again”.
In the end literally- I got spanked anyway and sent to the bedroom I shared with my brothers for the rest of the day. Lying on an old army bunk, I kept the lights off to hide my shame and promised myself I’d never do anything so crazy again.