Just what are the thoughts that invade a 10 year old’s mind to lure him into running away? There are probably a number of them, but I am going to go with adventure and maybe a chance to escape. Funny how the adults in this saga did not view it in the same light, as you will soon see.
I can’t remember if there was any great plotting or scheming that proceeded this adventure, it just seemed to grow. Sometimes a simple plan is the best; or is it?
My small village in the Eastern Townships of Quebec had a number of things that allowed it to stand out as different from others in the area. There was the usual collection of homes scattered over a rolling topography and a river that wound it’s way through the lower side. And it was this river that acted as a source of power for our two sawmills. Other than a post office/gas station, general store and several churches, there was no other claim to fame. But I digress. Not many places to run to, or from. But for a ten year old boy, an only child, that fact didn’t really play into it. The assignment I was given was pretty straight forward. Go to Albert and Doris’s general store and get a box of cereal. Across the river, past the Catholic church, and next to Whiteman’s farm. Fifteen minutes out and fifteen back. Oh, and buy yourself a pop – orange crush, 7 cents. As I said, simple and straight forward. Any similarities between what was expected and what went down…
As you will soon see, the way back bore no similarities to the getting there. Rather than going up the hill past the Catholic church, it was possible to cut through Whiteman’s farm behind the church. This was where the plan started to take shape. Also behind the church was an old and unused gravel pit which gave one access to high ground. Climbing up the side of the pit through the tall grass I soon found myself at the top and on the edge of the pit. Laying down in the grass I had a commanding view of the lower end of town, but could not be seen. I was lord of the hill! Invincible and in charge.
Now what to do. Remember, this plan was not well thought out. Even to this day, 62 years later, I do not know what possessed me to do this. In the child/parent dynamic, this is not a smart thing for a 10 year old to do. Not if you wanted to maintain your fine standing on the family totem pole. And now that I am in a position to think about it, maybe therein lies the driving force to my ill conceived adventure. So, what dark emotions/fears were rumbling away in my subconscious that thrust me into the dark side?
I feel at this point in my story, I must touch on the make-up of my dysfunctional family. Aside from me, there were four others in the family all from my maternal side. My Grandmother, whom I adored; her husband, who I hardly knew, as he was away a lot; their son, my uncle, who tried to be my father figure, but did not really get there, at least in my mind; and finally my Mother.
Divorced 3 years after I was born, not a new man in her life, and generally very distrustful of males, the victim of a number of illnesses, always feeling that she never received her fair quota of affection and fairness, she grew into an angry, forceful and bitter women. I guess in my eyes this inhibited her from contributing to a stable, loving, close and fair family dynamic. She also, was away a lot, working in Montreal. In short, my Grandmother became my mentor, hero and protector.The woman in my life that I would run to, to mend all of my ills. The disciplinarian in the family was, by default, my Mother. Her instruments for meting out punishment when I was “bad” were a hand, belt or a switch.
Knowing this fact was not lost on me as I lay concealed in the tall grass. As it was I was past the point of no return as far as my allotted time was concerned. And yet I did not try to make up for lost time and rush home. Was I, at the tender age of ten starting to rebel; to stage a challenge knowing full well what the outcome would be? Would my Grandmother protect me?
I think I layed there for a while longer content in my relatively secure position. I do remember seeing my uncle driving up the road but thought little of it. From my vantage point I could see traffic in all directions, and noticed that he drove over to the general store, came right back out and headed back to the house, only to come right out and started to drive slowly up the road, stopping at several homes along the way. I think I figured at this time that my jig was up.Sneaking home undetected was going to required some planning on my part.
The road was the easy way, but I would have been to easily discovered. My other option was through the fields and across the river. As it was the middle of summer, the river was at it’s lowest point of the season and there were enough rocks above water to allow me to leap from one to the other to access the other side. Simple enough, but even simple plans have a way of becoming unraveled. Those rocks were my undoing. They were there alright; wet, slippery and not evenly spaced. To make a short story even shorter, I got wet. And oh, that box of cereal, let’s just say that I hope the fish liked Rice Crispees. The rest of the treck home was uneventful until I tried to sneak in through the shed entrance.
My uncle was still out looking for me so my Mother and Grandmother were my welcoming committee. In my home there existed a pecking order for meting out discipline. When my Mother was home, all others took a back seat. My Mother was never one to use words to justify situations like I found myself in now. Punishment was arrived at without any preamble or discussion on my part, even if I felt the level of discipline did not necessarily fit the crime. Plea bargaining was not an option. The instrument of punishment was arrived at quickly and without allowing for any discussion or defence – a switch. And to add a level of pain, I had to cut it from the nearest alder bush.
Usually a hand or belt was all that was needed, but this was a crime of the highest order in my Mother’s mind. In my own I knew that I would be punished at the extreme level. I knew that even as I ventured fourth. Was I taunting her or just testing my own mettle? Analysing her choice of weapons was not on my mind at that moment. Would I now as a father do the same to any of my children? No. My Mother had over the years since her divorce turned into a bitter and angry person. Looking back now, I really believe she hated herself for that, and by beating me she was possibly purging herself of some of that pain.
The welts on my back did of course heal and fade; The memory, not as easily justified. Many years later I was able to forgive, but I have never forgotten. Did the punishment fit the crime? The answer to that I will leave up to you, dear reader.