In 1960 my parents bought a lot on the outskirts of Indianapolis and had a little brick house built. They did much of the finish work themselves and I enjoyed playing at the new house while they put up drywall, installed fixtures, hung doors or laid hardwood floors. I loved the fact that the lot was surrounded by undeveloped land which by contrast made the yard surrounding our duplex in the city seem tiny.
It wasn’t long before the house was finished. We moved in, and I entered third grade. This was the first time I was the new kid in the class and I didn’t like being the object of so much scrutiny. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before I made a few friends, one of whom lived a short distance from our new house. In fact, our school bus stop was right in front of her house, on the main road.
My parents had their hands full attending to and keeping track of what was by now a family of four. One Sunday afternoon their focus must have been fixed on one of my siblings because I couldn’t seem to get their attention despite earnest (and perhaps petulant) pleas. My recollection suggests the actual issue centered on some particular injustice in my world. I felt it demanded redressing, and I just couldn’t get an audience with the powers that be. Impatience would spawn an impulse.
I’ll show them… I’ll just leave. A radical act of such magnitude will surely impress upon them the preeminence of my needs. I was not one to trifle with.
Being careful not to tip my hand, I nonchalantly walked out the door empty-handed, as if heading out to play. No little suitcase for me, no siree, I was traveling light. I glanced over my shoulder several times to make sure no one was watching, and at the end of the driveway made a right turn and continued past several corn fields. Walking down the gravel road, my pulse quickened. Here I was: a woman of world, striking out on my own, prepared to make my mark. In another few minutes I found myself at the main road, standing in front of my new friend’s house. I paused to gather my wits before knocking, anticipating questions as to my purpose for being there. Secretly, I hoped they would magically see the desperate actions of a wronged child and offer sanctuary, because I was loath to spell it out.
My friend’s father greeted me. “Come in. My daughter isn’t home yet, but you can have a seat and wait for her if you want.” Hmmm. He had assumed I was merely there to play. Couldn’t he see the urgency of my situation? Suddenly I wasn’t sure this whole thing was going to play out as I’d planned. An Andy Williams special was on the television and I took a seat. I pasted myself against the arm of the sofa, trying to take up as little space as possible. If they considered me a presumptuous little guest I could get turned out onto the streets at nightfall.
I sat there for what seemed like a long time. My friend’s mother entered the kitchen making comments about needing to get dinner on the table and that I was welcome to stay. Then she stepped out the back door, and apparently grabbed a chicken and whacked off its head on a tree stump. She came back into the house and, to my horror, actually asked if I’d like to come watch the chicken running around the yard without its head!. I meekly and somewhat nauseously declined, realizing that any hope for sanctuary had just evaporated. I just couldn’t reside with chicken slayers.
I rose from the sofa and stated that I probably should be going now and that I could always come back later to see if my friend had returned. And without further ado, I exited the only place I knew of to go. I passed the same cornfields on my return home, and feverishly scrambled to come up with an explanation for my unannounced absence. I was hoping to have been missing long enough for them to be quite worried about me, and command the attention of the entire family. But the premature aborting of the original plan had most likely cancelled that prospect. ‘What were you thinking, young lady?!’ was more likely to trip off their lips. I braced myself and opened the door.
What happened next completely took the wind out of my sails. They neither fawned over me nor scolded. It was worse. When I walked in the front door they were still engrossed in whatever had gripped their attention when I left. My absence hadn’t even been noticed. I was crestfallen. What did a girl have to do to place herself in the center of everyone’s attention, anyway?! Sheesh. I decided not to say a word. To do so might have incurred consequences that, at this point, appeared to not be coming my way. Better to leave well enough alone, so I slunk off to my bedroom and laid low.
Did I learn a lesson? Perhaps. I think I began to realize that, 1) I wasn’t the center of the universe and that, 2) as one of four children, I could do myself a favor by waiting more patiently for my turn to receive parental attention, and that 3) I never wanted to accept a dinner invitation from my friend if fried chicken was on the menu.