No Red Shoes, No Way
I "ran away" from home one day when I was about five years old. Running away is a bit of a euphemism for my adventures that day. For one thing, I was on my little red trike which I inherited when Cassandra graduated to a bicycle. It was very frustrating to me that, on my trike, I could not keep up with her on her balloon-tired bike which jumped curbs with ease while I had to stop, get off, and physically drag my trike up and down curbs at the end of each block. Plus, I was under pretty strict orders to stay on the block which Cassandra took great pains to remind me when I attempted to follow her.
Sometimes she would practice the virtue of patience and allow her snotty-nosed kid sister to tag along behind which I did whole-heartedly to the best of my logistically limited ability. But, more often, she sped off without me, in company of her friends, a bicycle gang each of whom had playing cards clothes-pinned to the fender braces of the back tire of his or her bike so as to whap, whap, whap, against each spoke of the wheel and make the most pleasing imitation of motorcycle engine noises. Thus, to add to the indignity of having no noise-makers on my trike, I was frequently left behind in the dust to mull over the inequities of life as a little sister.
This particular afternoon, Cassandra had ten dollars Mom gave to her, entrusting her to go to the local shoe-store downtown and purchase herself a new pair of red sneakers. I was so jealous. Not only was Cassandra going to town without me, she also was in possession of quite the largest sum of money I had ever to this point in my young life seen in the hands of a kid. You must understand that at that time I had scant understanding of money. Cassandra was still able to talk me into swapping any liberty-head dime I might get my hands onto for any buffalo nickel she had. For one thing, I liked the buffalo and the Indian Chief on the flip side of the coin, both of which in my mind represented everything that was free and wild and wonderful in this world. Also, however, nickels were substantially larger than dimes and to my reasoning, therefore, were empirically more valuable. It just made sense to me that a coin that was three times larger than those thin and well-worn dimes must be worth more. Despite Mom's explanations to me to the contrary and no matter how many times my mother tried to show me that a nickel represented five pennies and a dime represented two nickels, my head refused to grasp this illogical idea and I clung to my assumptions and got suckered out of potential buying power every time Cassandra and I trekked to the store. I saw her take my dimes and buy twice as much candy as I could purchase with the nickels she traded to me but I clung stubbornly to my flawed belief system. This was one of the first, most obvious examples of what I would find were many things in life that simply made no sense.
Dad frequently entertained me by pulling silver dollars out of my ear which he then let me keep and which I immediately spent at Bimbos, treating the neighborhood kids to a Bacchanalian feast of penny candies. It made sense to me that a silver dollar would be worth ten dimes or twenty nickels or even one hundred pennies, that most worthless of coins which I found sometimes on the street and which tasted particularly nasty when carried in my mouth which is where I carried all my money, when I had any, due to unpleasant experiences losing money from unreliable pockets. When I had money in my mouth, I KNEW where it was and did not have to worry that it would slip out and disappear. I did have to worry that I might swallow it; this had happened more than once. But, between swallowing spit cautiously and speaking very carefully, I had mastered the art of banking my cash in my cheek and was very aware of the taste differences between various coins. Copper tasted like fear and dirt: hand-grime from a million sweaty-fingered transactions clung to those small red coins. Nickels tasted flat and big. Dimes tasted sharp. Quarters tasted sharper than dimes and bigger and silver dollars sharpest of all.
I disdained dollar bills which were ragged things with no weight or substance. But, the ten dollar bill that Cassandra flaunted that day was crisp and substantial and Cassandra let me hold it for a moment but refused my suggestion that we use it to go to the movies.
"Nope," she said. "I'm going to the Poll Parrot shoe store and when I buy my new red shoes, I will get a gold plastic egg with a prize inside. Ha ha ha. Probably a set of jacks. And, you get nothing. You have to stay home. Mom said."
Poll Parrot shoes were the height of fashion more because of the prizes than because they were better shoes, I am sure. But, the real attraction to a trip to the shoe store was the great green parrot that lived in a large cage in the back of the store and which the store owner kept, perhaps as a tie-in advertising gimmick to the radio blurbs which featured a parrot-type voice extoling the virtues of Poll Parrot shoes.
"Poll parrot. Poll Parrot.
They're the shoes you want to buy.
They make your feet run faster,
As fast as I can fly.
Well, this was all just too much for me. Seeing Cassandra pedal off down the street, heading to town, her feet pumping madly in torn holey sneakers, her piggy-tails flying, I was consumed with a hot hard rage. "No fair," I thought. "She gets red shoes, and a prize, and to see the parrot. And, I get stuck on the trike, on this block, in shoes every bit as old as hers. New shoes for school and I get none. Big time no fair." I fumed and fussed and cried and got streaky-faced from tears running down my dirty cheeks. I rode my little red trike around the block chewing on this a couple of times and then a brilliant idea dawned on me.
Why not just ride my trike downtown to where Mom works? Hmmmm. Possible. I knew just how to get there. Mom would surely understand the injustice of this, once I pointed it out to her. And, maybe, she might give me ten dollars and let me get red shoes, too, and a chance at a set of jacks. It was so simple. I wondered why I had wasted so much time going in circles. And, I was off like a shot. Down the street I went on my little trike, my little legs peddling twice as fast as Cassandra's even ever had to, visions of parrots squawking in my head. I got to the Post Office OK, this was a trip I had walked before with my father many times, to buy stamps and penny post cards. Ha! What ever happened to penny post cards and three cents stamps???? Turning at the PO, I set off down the main drag which was the highway that went smack through the middle of town.
My legs got tired and my thighs got chapped and my knees banged against the handlebars so furiously did I pedal my trusty trike, but never did I doubt my mission. Unfortunately, I forgot to cross over to the other side of the street. Block after block, I pedaled. Past the Poll Parrot store and the Ranch Inn where Mom waitressed, past the Court House and the Library, past all the businesses in town, totally intent on going the distance. I came to the other end of town, to the park where the swimming pool was, before it dawned on me that I seemed to be lost. Or, at least I wasn't where I had intended to be. I took a long drink from the water fountain in the middle of the park and I rested in the shade of a large cottonwood tree. I watched some kids playing on the swings. I sat on a swing and twisted around for a spinning ride. But, my feet and legs were way too tired to do more than make perfunctory attempts to push and pump the swing. Boy, it sure was hot.
I talked to a little girl playing in the sand. She had bright silvery-blue ribbons in her shiny brown hair. She had bright blue-white socks with ruffly lace along the tops. She had no scabs on her knees and her dress was hardly mussed from any play. She also had a very nice mommy, a dark haired woman wearing a pink polka dotted dress who was terribly concerned that I might be lost
"Oh no, " I assured her, "I know where I am. I live over on the other end of town, across the railroad tracks. I could never get lost. I live here."
"Well, that's a long ways away, " she replied. "Where's your mother?"
"Oh, Mom," I told her matter of factly, "She's at work. She's always at work at this time of the day. She doesn't get home till around supper time."
"But, does she allow you to ride your trike all over town?" the woman asked, looking at me closely. "I don't think it's safe for a girl your age to go so far from home by yourself."
I had learned from an early age the importance of looking grown ups square in the eye, especially when telling big fat fibs, so I stared her right in the face and said as casually and sincerely as possible, "Oh, I'm not alone. I came downtown with my older sister. She's at the store, buying red shoes. She is gonna meet me back here as soon as she gets done."
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"Oh," the nice mother said, looking vastly relieved, "That's good. I was worried. I just couldn't imagine you being allowed to ride around in this traffic alone. Do you think your sister will be back soon?" she queried, obviously still concerned about my well being.
"Oh, in an hour or so...” I replied. "She'll probably have to try on about a hundred pairs before she makes up her mind. That's why I came to the park." Lies should be well dressed in details, I knew. I smiled my bravest, long-suffering smile.
"Well, why don't you have an ice cream cone with us?" she suggested, an idea that I agreed to without hesitation. She and her daughter walked slowly as I pedaled my trike across the park to the Dairy Queen and we chattered at one another like old friends. She told me that they had only just moved to Elko and that she was so glad we had a nice park for her daughter to play in every day. I told her that we hardly ever came to the park but that we had a tire swing down by the river and that we often swam in the slough there. That brought her worried look back and I changed the subject quickly.
We all three had cherry dipped vanilla cones which I noticed her daughter licked daintily, never getting so much as a spot of runny ice cream on herself. They both seemed interested in watching me eat my cone which I did in our typical McElroy fashion, biting off and eating the bottom of the cone and then noisily sucking the ice cream out the end. Fortunately thus occupied, I was spared much further conversation and after assuring the woman only another three or four times that Cassandra would be by any minute now, the woman reluctantly took her daughter and left. Whew. A close call.
I drank another camel-sized load of water from the fountain. Funny how ice cream makes ya thirsty, eh? I waded in the reflecting pool and cooled my feet. I watched the pigeons fight over pop corn around the trash barrels and relished the freedom of being in the park under no one else's agenda but my own. Too soon, however, I noticed that the sun had begun to go low in the sky. I realized that if I didn't get to Mom pretty soon, her shift would be finished and she would go home without realizing that I had come to visit her.
I climbed aboard my trike and proceeded back through town. The sun was setting, however, faster than I could pedal. And so concerned did I become with getting where I was going soonest, I quite forgot to cross the street again. The next thing I knew I was back at the Post Office, only about ten blocks from home. Oh, chriminey. I parked my trike and walked up the tall steps to the PO and had another long drink from the fountain there in the large lobby. I looked at the Wanted posters, an activity without which no trip to the PO would be complete and then decided to pack it in and just go home. After all, I reasoned, it was almost sunset and Mom was probably on her way home by now. "Maybe I will catch up with her. Won't she be surprised? And, how fun it will be to ride along side her as we go home."
When I got back to my trike, I was quite taken aback to find a policeman there. "Is this your trike?" he asked, hunkering down to my level.
I admitted that it was.
"Are you lost?" he wanted to know.
"Oh, no," I assured him. "I live just over there, across the railroad tracks, down by the river," and I made to get on my trike.
"Well, kid," he said, "Somebody thinks you're lost so maybe you better get in the car and let me give you a ride home. You've got a momma that's kinda worried about you, I think."
He picked up my trike and put it in the back of his car and opened the front passenger door for me to get in. Now, this was a long, long time ago and parents were much less apt in those days to warn their children about the dangers of speaking to strangers. I had, however, been warned in no uncertain terms about men who might try to get kids to come with them in cars. They might say that your mother or father sent them to pick you up, I had been told. They could even pretend to be policeman. These are bad men that might try to do bad things to little kids. So, whatever you do, DON'T get in the car. Don't let them take you anywhere, ever. The fact that this man had a real police car and uniform and badge only convinced me that he must be pretty good at this being a bad man stuff and I resisted his every attempt to force me into the front seat. I scrambled out and away from him and braced both feet against the door jam and hollered for dear life.
Then, the very worst thing that could possibly happen in the whole wide world HAPPENED, right there, to me! "Here, little girl," he said, hanging onto me with one arm and reaching into the glove compartment with the other. "Here's a lollipop. You can have this. And, if you will just be quiet and get in the car, when we get you home I have another lollipop right here and I will give you that one, too."
Oh yikes. I wasn't very clear on what bad men did to little girls, but of everything I had ever heard, the very mostest worst always began when they offered you candy. Or, money. I knew then that I was as good as dead and all my previous struggles paled in comparison to what I did next to avoid being put into that phoney cop car. I bit and spit and kicked and screamed at the top of my lungs, yelling for help, tearing at his hands and face with my grubby fingers, gouging his eyes, beating his chest with my tiny, bony fists.
But, the hideous fact was that he was both stronger and bigger than me and despite all my efforts, he managed somehow to get both himself and me into the car. I continued in my screaming twisting struggles, forcing him to hold me with one hand as he drove slowly with the other. I knew for sure that terrible things were gonna happen to me and I became so consumed with fear and rage that I never even noticed where he was taking me until we pulled up in front of our little white duplex.
He deposited me and my trike onto the broken sidewalk where tree roots were growing up through shattered cement and where Cassandra and I had played thousands of games of hopscotch. He laughed as he talked to my mother and told her that I was a sturdy little beggar and he hoped he wasn't on duty if I ever ran off from home again. He gave me the other lollipop; the first one had disappeared somewhere in our struggle. I was left to lick my lollipop and to answer Cassandra's excited questions.
The policeman was long gone before I thought to even try to explain to him that I was neither lost nor had I run away from home. I was pissed at him and Mom, both, for laughing about the whole thing. Cassandra danced around in her new red shoes and I realized that no one was ever gonna listen to my long complicated story about my various experiences that day. My family still calls this the day I ran away. I can only add with great dignity that I was on my trike for all but the last few blocks, I wasn't running at all. And, I am sure that I could have made it safely home if circumstances had not intervened. I worried for a long time what might have happened if my policeman had actually been a bad man and I have to admit that I was just a little disappointed. Mostly I was sorely perplexed that no one understood or could see the whole thing from MY point of view