"Your home work for your first day of English class, due tomorrow is one on your summer vacation," said Miss Bales. This should be interesting I thought, should I tell the truth or make up the usual crap, like we went to the beach on Lake Erie or to Columbus to the zoo.
I guess I should explain why I am even thinking of making something up. I have proof of what happened but I don't know if I want all the nonsense that will go with it when it comes out. But it will come out anyway after that last bit in Philadelphia so I might as well go for it.
It all started late May of last year, I had just finished 8th grade, and my dad Jack Jackson and I were discussing what I would do for the summer. Dad was a child during the great depression and had been in the Civilian Conservation Corp, as a youth out in Idaho, killing coyotes. He was in the Army during World War II, where he met my English mother. I think I was the reason they got married but this was not discussed but I could do arithmetic.
My name is Richard Edward Jackson, known as Rick or Ricky; I am large for my age at five foot ten inches and one hundred seventy pounds. From my Father, Cousins and Uncles sizes I still had a lot of growth left. I am fourteen years old, turning fifteen in October. I am known as Ricky to friends and family.
Anyway Dad said, "By the time I was your age I was all around the country. Hell when I was twelve I ran away with the carnival, but your grandmother had the Sheriff chase me down. Later she swore she should have just let me go."
"You wouldn't mind if I traveled around a bit?"
"Not at all but your Mother might care."
"But if I mention it to her would you say it is okay?"
"That would be better than running your paper route and sitting around reading all the time." Now Dad was happy that I worked and had been doing so since the fifth grade. He did not mind that I read all the time, which was easy because the library was a stop on my paper route. What he minded was me sitting on the porch swing for hours at a time reading and getting a little pudgy.
Taking my life in my hands I broached the subject at dinner that night. My two younger brothers and sister had not acted up, and Dad had not gone on a toot (what he called a drinking spree) for a while so there was no tension at the table. Also money must have been okay because Dad had moved up from the extra board as a switchman on the railroad to become a conductor.
This was not like a conductor on a passenger train; this was like a supervisor putting the cars in place for a freight train. The switchmen and brakemen had to take orders from him. This irked two of my Uncles who did those jobs.
Anyway I said, "Mum would you care if I saw a little of the country on this vacation?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well I only go up to Indian Lake, about ten miles, with you and Dad. Would you care if I rode my bike or even hitchhiked up there?" In those days hitchhiking was quite common and not considered a bad thing.
"I might even get to Cincinnati to see a ball game!"
"That sounds ambitious; I doubt that you would have the nerve for that, it is one hundred miles there."
"I won't know if I don't try."
Mum looked at Dad and asked, "What do you think?"
"Well I sort of put it in his mind, so I am okay with it."
Mum then gave me a look and said, "You can do it, now tell me what you really have in mind?" I should have known I would not get anything past her."
"I would like to hitchhike out west and see as much country as I can during the summer."
"I thought it was something like that. Actually I do not see anything wrong with it; you have the size, seem to have common sense. I certainly did more adventuresome things when I was your age."
"Like what I asked?"
"Well you know we lived in Grays, a small town on the Thames River between Dover and London. We used to make rafts to cross the river. You don't know fear until an Ocean Liner is blowing its horn for you to get out of the way when you are on a raft. So I do understand. You will just be careful of who you take rides with."
And so my summer vacation started. I had saved forty dollars from my paper route which I no longer had. This was almost a grown man's week's wages in those days. I had a thin sleeping bag, ground cloth, shaving kit and an old army rucksack to carry several changes of clothes. I had the required Barlow pocketknife of all boys my age and a comb.
What I did have that was unusual was my passport. Since Dad was a GI and Mum British, I had dual citizenship. My parents thought we could afford a trip to England several years ago but it didn't work out, but I did end up with the American Passport. It was very handy for impressing the girls.
It was the only ID that I had on me other than my library card. Mum gave me five dollars to be only used in an emergency and told me I had to send a post card every few days so they knew about where I was at.
I had already learned in life that what parents approved one day might change the next. So I was up early on May 31, the next day. The school calendar was easy to follow those years. School ended the day before Memorial Day and took up again the day after Labor Day. The dinner conversation was on Thursday night May 30, and school was over for the year. I had passed eighth grade going on to the ninth.
I was up at day break and packed but Mum was up and had breakfast waiting, my favorite bowl of cereal, Quaker Oaks puffed rice. While I ate she made me two baloney sandwiches for lunch. She also gave me an Army surplus canteen that Dad had left for me. He was at work but both figured I wouldn't waste time once I had permission.
After a hug from Mum, I walked the five blocks to Main Street which was also US 68 in Bellefontaine, Ohio. From there I started walking south. It did not take long before Ernie Nevers slowed down. He was an older paperboy who could drive. He offered me a lift. He thought I was heading out to fair grounds south of town.
When I told him I was heading towards Springfield he really questioned me. I explained my summer mission, seeing the West. He scoffed, "You will be home tomorrow, but since I am heading for Urbana I will take you that far."
We spent the half hour drive going west; the truth was neither of us knew much. If I went to Springfield and followed US 40 to the Ocean then turned left I would get to LA. In those days the Interstate system was just being built and US 40 still went all the way to San Francisco.
Anyway Ernie dropped me off in the center of Urbana at the roundabout and I started walking south. It took me about half an hour to get to the edge of town and stick my thumb out. Of course the first person to stop was a county sheriff's deputy.
He was polite and wanted to know who I was, where I was going and the usual things a cop might ask, like had I run away from home. I in return politely gave my story.
He laughed and said, "Not many people do that anymore. I tried it just before the war. I got clear to Indianapolis before I got homesick. Good luck and have fun." Things were different in those days.
At about that time an old farm truck slowed down and the Deputy flagged him over. "Hey Bill we got a young man on his way west, He needs to get to Springfield to pick up 40."
"Well hop in youngster! I remember those days; I used to ride the rail when I was your age. We would jump a box car to Dayton; then go south to Cincinnati to watch a ball game at Crosley Field. We were thirteen and would drink Hudephol Beer. The kid that sold it to us probably was ten. It was a dime a bottle.
The old farmer regaled me with fun stuff he did as a kid half way to Springfield. He let me out at his turnoff and wished me luck.
My next ride took forty minutes and was an insurance man going to his office in Springfield. He wanted to know where I was from and did my parents need insurance. I could not really answer him so it was a quite ride. He let me off downtown Springfield on the main drag which was route 40.
Since it was Memorial Day a parade was lined up on 40 getting ready to head west. The floats were lined up along street. One float, the Future Farmers of America had boys and girls my age. One of the girls a cute brunet said, "Hi," as her float was slowly going by.
Of course being nobody's fool I said, "Hi" back.
She got a funny look and said, "Oh I am sorry I thought you were someone else."
This gave me the opening to ask, "Who did you mistake me for?" I continued to walk along besides the float.
After that a more general conversation ensued with me telling her and the other kids on the float of my big trip. This resulted in getting an invitation to ride the float out to the edge of town. All the kids thought it was neat that my parents would let me do that. We weren't cool in those days, just neat.
I felt like I was King of the World on that ride. Then reality caught up with me as we reached the cemetery at the edge of town for the Memorial Day ceremonies. I went my way and they went theirs.
I stood by the road with my thumb out for half an hour according to my glow in the dark Timex watch. This became boring so I started walking, putting my thumb out whenever a car would come by.
It took me the rest of the day to reach Dayton. As it was getting dark I left the road and camped in a small wood's. My food was long gone, I was tired hungry, lonely and a little scared of being out alone. I was jumping at every little sound.
.... There is more of this story ...