May 10, 2014 at 6:11pm
Mom extended her index finger for me to hold and walked me to church on Easter morning.
“You are too big to carry now,” she said.
It was only the two of us. Her dress was the color of dark lilacs topped with a sunshine-yellow scarf across her shoulder.
My gait shifted to a trot to keep up as she quickened her pace and clopped her high heels to a faster tempo because we were already, as always, a few minutes late.
With one hand she pulled me along, with the other she carried her violin. She played the violin when she was very happy or when someone asked her to and today she would play for both reasons.
The thought that sprouted in my mind as we strolled along and still is in full blossom to this day is that mom is beautiful, more beautiful than the fragrance of lilacs or the melodies of her violin or even a walk to church on Easter morning holding the hand of someone you love who loves you back even more…even if she won’t carry you.
And that is why I still feel bad that I ran away. Well that is not the only reason I feel bad about it… but it is a big one.
It wasn’t really running away. That sounds too theatrical, like leaving in a huff and slamming the door behind you and it was not that at all. There was no desire to leave Mom or Dad to punctuate some radical resolve or protest an injustice with a dire act. Not running from anything, not trying to teach anyone a lesson or cause anyone to worry. It was just about the adventure and my birthday present happened to be a red tricycle.
While Mom was in bed nursing my five month old sister Jenette, her fourth child, and Dad was teaching at the university, my trike beckoned with a soft squeak in a language understood only by four-year-olds: “hey,” it said, “I’ll carry you.” …and away we rolled.
The adventure was not plotted in any detail but had been considered on occasion as our family drove up and down ninth east and the route was memorized from the back seat of our Ford station wagon.
This would be a personal odyssey, a four-year-old’s epic mission to the outer limits of Provo City, Utah: Uncle David and Aunt Lorraine’s house.
Uncle David and Aunt Lorraine were known even then for their coolness and great collection of the most current albums, especially The Ventures new one: Walk don’t Run. –If you have not heard it, you really should and be prepared to dance because it is hard not to when it is playing.
To get to there I rolled down Cedar Avenue coasting past the Boyack’s home. Brother Boyack was bent over busily watering the pink petunias in the median between our driveways and didn’t look up.
His name is Herald, the same name as a character in one of the books Mom reads to me at night: Herald and the Purple Crayon. He might secretly have been the boy in the book when he was little. He kind of looks like him…but all grown up.
The front door was open at the Andersons, the next house down the street. The grandfather clock on the wall behind the door had just begun chiming but there was no slowing down to hear the tone of the final gong although I kept my ears tuned as long as I could. His name was Leland. He was a cowboy, a real one.
Across the street was the Haywards’ house. Brother Hayward’s name was Linn and he carved birds out of wood and let me hold one once so I could look it over close up for a long time. It was amazing and looked so real. He was a university professor, an ornithologist and his wife’s name was Libby. She was my primary teacher. Her name was so fun to pronounce that sometimes I’d say it over and over again Libby Libby Libby Libby while rolling down the soft slope of the sidewalk…but not if she could hear me.
At the Davis home the trunk of their big blue car was open with bags of groceries from Carson’s market still waiting to be carried into the house but no one came to take them. Brother Davis was probably helping his wife Rae. She moved very slowly and had a walker since she got polio and almost died when she was expecting her last baby, Kent and now she needed help all the time. She had a beautiful smile and was always kind and happy. But it was sad that she couldn’t skip or jump or dance any more. Once she gave me an ice cream cone with a lot more ice cream than mom ever put on… a whole lot more.
The Reids were home but inside. Sister Reid–Oh I should tell you, we call each other brother and sister because we are Mormons but she really is not my sister or mom’s sister or anyone’s sister that I know of. Maybe she has a sister, but if she does she probably doesn’t call her ‘sister,’ she probably just calls her by her real name like Kathleen or Dorothy or maybe a nickname like Munchy Crunchy or Deedle doos– anyway she had made the cake for my birthday party. It was so beautiful that Mom took a picture of it and told her, “thanks a million oh thanks a million.”
There was something going on at the Downings’ house, but there was always something going on at the Downings. Carolyn, Lorelai, and Galen were getting ready for a new year at school and I could hear Lester–he’s the dad–playing his clarinet in the back yard. Randy Downing was my best friend but tempting as it was, I did not detour from the path of the adventure to stop and play with him.
Without having to pedal even once the inhabited zone of our neighborhood passed into the background and a looming landscape of pastures, schools and businesses lay ahead.
My path next cut through the gravel parking lot across from Carson’s market where dragging my shoes stirred up streaming clouds of gray-white dust like contrails that followed behind me tickling my feet from below and making a grinding noise under the soles that sounded like the perfect music for a great adventure.
I coasted into a filling bay and my sneakers skidded across the extra smooth blacktop to a stop at Genes Texaco and the front wheel almost ran over Gene’s toes. The idea was to get a technical opinion on the matter of the squeak.
–“Got a squeaky wheel here, I said.
“Oh a squeaker, hunh?”
–”Um hum, can you do something for it?”
“Well, let’s see what we’ve got here. Humm looks like it’ the axle. A squirt of lubricant might be all you need.”
— “Oh, oil. That’s what I was thinking too. Yea, oil.”
Gene himself squirted the axle near the rear wheels with a red oil can that had a neck that looked far too long for its body size. .
— “How much?”
“This one is on me,” he said and shook my hand.
— “Thanks a million,” I said.
The fingers in my other pocket were fondling a few coins but they were not offered. They might be needed later if the squeak returned… you know for lubricant.
Without the squeak the red tricycle felt faster than ever.
Where Briar, Birch and ninth east come together, there is a canal that is open to the air for a bit and then goes underground. It is a perfect place to spit in the lazy green water and watch the spittle spread and stretch as the upwellings draw it out and the surface currents fight over it.
The canal and the intersection are so dangerous that Wasatch school drafts sixth graders and gives them special yellow straps that go over their shoulders and across their chests and they commission them to be official protectors of children when school is in session so everyone can safely go over the canal and across the street.
On the other side of Birch Lane there is a pasture with a chestnut mare and her baby that will come and eat from your hand if you offer them the long green grass that grows just beyond the reach of their mouths on this side of the fence.
Then there is Wasatch school. My big sister, Margaret, will start kindergarten soon. She already knows so much more than I do and she will be in school learning nonstop every day. Don’t think I’ll ever catch up.
Since Wasatch had not yet begun, the flag was not raised. Still the flagpole was impressively tall and the sound of the chains tinging against it in the wind from top to bottom held my attention and entertained me with the noise until the ringing faded out of the scene overtaken by the sounds of birds and traffic and the breeze across my face and ears. Uncle David and Aunt Lorraine’s place was just a few blocks down. I rolled straight on listening to my wheels bump and roll over the lines in the concrete sidewalk…libby libby libby libby …and there it was 749 North 900 East.
The door was locked but had not been tightly closed so it yielded to my little push and gave me complete access to their domain.
Uncle David and Aunt Lorraine’s house was full of stuff but free of people. Phase one of the mission was a success.Got the tricycle into the house and placed it in the center of their living room then closed the door…all the way.
The contents of their fridge was now in my control as was their record player. The Ventures album was near the top of the stack. I slid it out of its jacket and was careful not to touch the face or the back just the edges and with my eye next to the hole in the middle aimed at the post that goes through and centers it. The album dropped down on the turntable and automatically things began spinning and moving and lifting and pivoting and magically it started to play.
Margaret had taught me a dance she learned on TV: you pretty much keep your feet where they are and just wiggle your bottom around and that’s what I practiced as I danced with my reflection in the front window of the living room.
This music feels different than the music Mom plays on her violin. This music makes you want to dance and move. Mom’s music makes you want to smile and listen.
Not that the Ventures ever get boring but my curiosity led me to The Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley and then back to the Ventures until the marathon tricycle ride, a personal smorgasbord from Aunt Lorraine’s fridge, dancing and exploring caught up to me.
The cushions of their couch became my napping place. My eyes closed and sleep took me even further away.
Hours passed in perfect peace while the record player hissed and ticked in an infinite loop.
Mom noticed my absence and for the first ten minutes or so supposed that I would simply appear. With new-born Jenette in her arms she walked around the house calling my name. Since she couldn’t find me in the house she yelled into the backyard and the orchard, looked around the tennis court and then her lower lip started to tremble.
The tricycle was missing too and this caused a chilling fear to cross her thoughts.
She phoned the Downings and the Dunns but they had not seen me. She walked across the street to where Earl Finlayson was working in his garden and he had seen me but not since this morning. She called Dad’s secretary and got him out of a class he was teaching. He ran home.
Dad called around and the Boyacks and the Andersons and the Davises came and soon all the neighbors and all our friends gathered in front of our house and began searching the bushes and back yards. They even searched Uncle David and Aunt Lorraine’s house, but only the outside…because the door was locked and closed.
Hours passed and the sun was going down. The police came. A fire truck parked across the driveway with its spinning lights that threw twirling colors at the trees and across the houses and over clothes and sheets drying on the lines and on the gathered crowd.
The officers were trying to whisper but Mom could hear them say “canal” and her imagination slipped more deeply into the darkest corners of what might be. Mom was from Idaho Falls and knew children who had drowned in canals.
Dad stood with Mom while others tried to figure out what more to do, where else to go, how to organize, how to plan.
The consistent activity among all who gathered were hushed prayers and the vocal assurance that things would be okay.
It was now dusk and Earl and Cloe Finlayson cruised up and down the tree streets with a burning spotlight that stuck out from the side post of their windshield .
At one time Earl had been the police chief and at another time the fire chief of all of Provo so their cars had extra stuff like spotlights and super tall antennas and special trailer hitches. They were looking for any sign, any evidence, a shoe, a tricycle tire, a suspicious stranger.
My eyes opened in a dark living room to the hissing and ticking of the record player. In a few moments my recollection returned and my surroundings began to make sense. It was late and it was important to head home.
The sky was still softly glowing violet and orange above the mountains on the far side of the lake as I pushed the handlebars to walk my vehicle up the sloping sidewalk along ninth east. The return home was only slightly uphill but took a lot more energy. My heart was drumming against my chest and my breaths were getting deeper and faster.
A beam of brilliant light hit me from the street and stuck on me. It felt hot and hurt my eyes.
“Dell!” called a woman’s voice from behind the blinding light. It was not Mom’s voice, but it was kind and trustworthy and sounded familiar.
–“Hi,” I said shielding my eyes with my forearms, “I’m just walking home.”
“You can come in the car with us.”
–“That’s alright, I’ll just walk.”
“It’s up hill, why don’t you just come with us we can get you there faster. We’ll put your tricycle in the trunk and it will be fine.”
Out hopped Earl Finlayson. In one of his massive strong hands he grabbed the tricycle, and in the other he grabbed me around the tummy and hoisted me into the air. Before I could greet the other passenger (it was their daughter Colleen) we were zooming up ninth east in the Finlayson’s big gray Dodge.
“Where have you been?” Sister Finlayson asked with a measure of concern.
–“Well, I wanted to visit uncle David and Aunt Lorraine but they weren’t home, so I just waited for them but I guess they went somewhere so I’m just going to go home now and see them another day or maybe they will come see us.”
As we turned up Cedar Avenue there were flashing lights, police cars and a crowd of people. I stood up on the seat (we didn’t use seat belts much) and pressed my face to the window.
–“What’s going on here? I asked. “What are all of these people doing? What happened? Is Mom okay? Is everyone okay?” My heart really began to race. It was obviously something very very serious and important. I started to cry.
Brother Finlayson stopped the car in the middle of the street in front of our house. He and Sister Finlayson turned their heads at the same time and looked at me. Sister Finlayson had tears in her eyes. Brother Finlayson put his hand on my shoulder and said, “everything is okay now. Everything is okay you’re home.”
I did not understand and just looked around at all of the people on our front lawn trying to make sense of it: the Boyacks, the Davises, the Dunns, the Reids and the Downings, and Libby Hayward.
“Everyone is here for you,” he said.
–“Why would they come here for me?”.
“You were lost, so we all came to look for you and bring you home, every one of us. We looked everywhere. Some people are still looking for you even now.”
— “In the dark?”
“Even in the dark.”
Your dad called and we all came. We just dropped whatever we were doing, all of us did, because there is nothing as important as finding a child who is lost. Nothing as important as helping them come home to their mom and dad. And now we found you. And now you are home. So everything is okay.”
Mom came to the door of the car and lifted me out through the window with a hug. She didn’t say anything, didn’t even try. She just carried me.
Mom is especially beautiful in the light of the sunset when there are stars shining in her eyes. Dad put his arm around her while she held me and everyone stared at us. They just stared until it was time to go home.
And we went home too.
Margaret told me about the police and the canal and about looking for suspicious strangers.
The doorbell rang. Dad answered it. It was Earl Finlayson…and the tricycle. Brother Finlayson looked at me, nodded and smiled. “Thanks a million,” I shouted and repeated, “thanks a million.”
Dad carried the trike up to my room and set it on the floor next to my bed. Then he knelt down and so did I and he began to coach me with my bedtime prayer. That was our nightly ritual but I fell asleep on my knees before I finished thanking Heavenly Father for my neighbors and my home and my Mom and my Dad and my tricycle.
And even though I was asleep I could hear mom playing her violin and it was beautiful.