It amazes me these days how much more security conscious we are these days about our kids – and well we should be. When I look back at what we did as kids, it surprises me that my brother and I are alive to tell stories to our kids about what we got into as kids.
It was not unusual for us to wake up in the morning, eat breakfast and head out on our bikes, sometimes traveling several miles away as we explored. We would ride back for lunch, and disappear again until dinner. We could not have been more than 8 or 9 years old. On ambitious days we would pack a lunch and not come back til dinner. We lived in the Sunset Heights area of El Paso which is on the edge of the University of Texas at El Paso. Until 1967 or so it was still called Texas Western College. There is not a square inch of that University that we did not explore. In fact, the deep old gully that we used to build forts in is now a huge parking lot at the edge of the school.
We often would take our bikes and ride downtown to go the old plaza where the buses gathered. At the time the fountain in the middle of the plaza had live alligators in them. To my dismay they have since been replaced by these cheesy looking fiberglass gators. They should have just left them empty.
Anyway, I digress. The point is that parents had a lot more confidence in having their kids out loose in the world back then. Simpler times? Maybe. Do I consider my mom a bad parent for letting us loose like that. Absolutely not.
Part of the confidence my mom had in me at the time is that I was able to take my little brother with me on Sunday mornings to church at First Baptist Church on Montana Street which is at the edge of downtown, or at least it was at the time. This involved taking a bus from Munday park, which was about a block away from the house, to the plaza downtown where we transferred to a bus that headed out toward the church. After church we reversed our route and made it back home. My mom was raising us as a single mom working as a nurses aide at Providence Memorial Hospital and would pick up as many extra shifts as she could, so some Sundays this was what we had to do to get to church.
One Sunday we finished with church and headed back home, so we waited at the bus stop for the bus. As the trusted treasurer of our little adventure I held the nickels that we needed to buy our fare and get home. As the bus approached I gave my brother his nickel because he insisted on paying the fare himself. He got on the bus, paid the fare, and moved to the rear of the bus. It was at this time that I realized “I don’t have my nickel!” Apparently somewhere down the line as I was pulling out the money to give my brother his nickel, I had dropped mine on the sidewalk. I ran back as fast as I could to retrace my steps, and there on the sidewalk, shining brightly, was the nickel I had dropped. After picking it up I turned to go back to the bus only to find to my horror that it was pulling away, with my little brother on the bus by himself. Apparently he had gone to the back of the bus to sit down and the bus driver never noticed that we were separated. Screaming at the top of my lungs and running as fast as my 7 or 8-year-old legs could go, I chased the bus as it pulled away, but I couldn’t catch it. When I looked up, my brothers face was in the rear window looking out at me as the bus drove off.
OH MY GOD!!! My brother, who at the most was maybe 5 years old at the time, was on the bus by himself, and headed downtown. What is he going to do when he gets there? How will he get home? Will he get home at all? What am I going to tell my mom? I lost my little brother!
The next bus would not come by for at least 20 minutes so I began to hoof it to the plaza. At the time that was the longest walk/run that I could have imagined. It certainly seemed to last forever, even though when I Googled it a while ago it turns out it was only 8/10 of a mile. That relatively short distance seemed like a march across the Sahara desert because of the fear that I had that I had lost my brother forever.
My hopes and prayers were that I would find him sitting at the Plaza, next to the fountain with the alligators, waiting for me to show up. No such luck. When I arrived at the plaza he was no where in sight. I checked everywhere that we used to hang around in hopes that maybe he would be hanging around entertaining himself. Again, no such luck. The dilemma at this point was this – do I stick around here and look for him, or go on home in the hopes of finding him.
As I think back, I do not know why I decided to walk home from there. Maybe it was with the hope of finding him on the way, maybe it was the dread of getting home and not finding him at all. It would not surprise me if I cried on the way home. As a kid I cried a lot and I got teased about it by classmates because it continued all the way to 7th and 8th grade (that is the subject of another post in the future). We did not have a phone at home, so I could not call my mom at work. It never occurred to me to ask an adult or a police officer to help. Walking that huge distance home (Google says it was about a mile) was a nightmare for me. Is he there? Is he stuck on the bus somewhere where I will never find him? Will my mom be childless after she kills me for losing my brother?
As I walked down the driveway to our little apartment behind the house I saw my brother sitting at the front door waiting for me. He was as calm as could be and his only concern was getting in the house so he could pee. I have no doubt I hugged him a lot and asked him a million questions. As far as we could tell from what he told us, he just followed the routine we developed. He got his transfer when he got on the bus, got off at the plaza, and somehow managed to get on the right bus to get home. It is said that God protects little children and fools. He certainly protected us that day.
I am not sure what my mom told me after this happened but I know I didn’t get punished, and I am certain my dear sweet mom never blamed me for what happened. My recollection is that we got a lot of rides to church from that point on. Gee, I wonder why.
PLAZA BACK IN THE DAY