Tuesday, August 9, 2011

tiny steps

I was probably about three when I began running away. Now don't imagine it was because I was badly treated because nothing could be less true, but right from the moment my parents removed the leash that was standard equipment in those days it was very difficult for them to keep me in one place. Of course, I don't remember much about being three any more than any of you would but there were always the stories and those vivid picture memories I've carried around since infancy.

When I was very young we lived in a little house on a street called Corporation Road in Gillingham, Kent. That's in England and the 'G' is soft. Down at the end of that street was a place known as the Strand, a big beach park on the River Medway not far from where it meets the sea. There was a huge salt water swimming pool, an ice cream shop, big boat swings, a band stand, and, best of all for me, a little steam driven train. I think it was a steam train but I may be wrong about that. I do remember the beach where I built sand castles with my father.

But I was talking about my tendency to slip away. I had no brothers or sisters, there was no television in 1949, and I was too young to know how to read. What I did have was a great deal of curiosity and a tendency to get bored with my dolls. This is one of the stories:

Our back garden had a wall and a hedge and a gate with a big lock. I must have been a very good climber.

Outside the gate was a long alley that lead straight down to the Strand. I knew my way.

I went to the little station and got on the train. I had no money but that didn't seem to matter. All the other children went home but I kept riding the train. The man driving it knew someone would come looking for me eventually. They did. I don't know if they had to pay for fifty trips around the Strand.

Times were different.


  1. as are all your "adventures", your drawings always carry an emotion that draws me right in...truly, I don't know how you do it. In this, the sheer glee your sweet little heart feels as you flee your caged garden after staring at that big gate for who knows how long...years probably!! and the flight down to the T R A I N.

    Is there a child anywhere who does not adore them? I don't think so and can imagine how you rode and rode until dusk and they found you...or perhaps it was only minutes...what unadulterated
    J O Y!
    Yes, I completely understand, imagining myself much the same.... xoxo

  2. linda - Even if you're the only one to leave a comment on this story, yours alone makes me glad I wrote (and drew) it this week. You got the essence right away and I'm so glad you came by and told me what you think.

    My mother used to tell me that she'd take me to nursery school and most days I'd get home before she did and would be waiting on the step. She'd have to turn around and take me back. I only stayed if they gave me paper and colored pencils immediately. I bet you'd have been like that too.

  3. (I'm not sure my comment came through so here it is again, please delete if it's a duplicate).

    What a joyful, gleeful happy memory and equally delightful drawing of it, even if it is a partly a family story. Hope your family is appreciating these wonderful recording of your adventures.

  4. every line of the little girl at the gate is wistful. such a big padlock. you must have been a very good climber indeed! the little girl in the second picture has left all her wistfulness behind the gate with the big padlock. i love the way she embraces everything in front of her. every line of her is joy. then she disappears into the train.... only the top of her head visible..... the pictures speak volumes. i wish i'd come by last night for a bedtime story.

    i loved school when i started. they gave me my very own BRAND NEW, UNBROKEN crayons right away. and began my lifelong love affair with books.

  5. linda hit the railroad spike on the head. It's not innocence in some made-for-TV maudlin kind of way, but that joy we once had and let slip due to "reality." If we're smart, we'll try to get it back.

  6. Gosh, I have so much to catch up to here! Sorry for the long absence.

    I love that story, reminds me of my second daughter who often ran off and sent us into a panic as we tried to locate her. In fact, we had to keep her in "sack pajama's" when she was a baby because she learned how to lift her leg over the crib and climb out at night when we were all sleeping. Like you, she's very artistic and quite an adventurist!

  7. I was a one for running away when I was your age too. Reins were still de rigeur in the mid sixties too.

    As ever Susan your drawing s are an utter delight. If I had a strand and a train nearby my parents would have needed a 20 foot barbed wire fence to keep me in!

  8. As always, I am delighted to see a new Adventure. Those early memories have a completely different feel, for me - like it was in a different atmosphere, or on a different planet. I think you capture some of that in your post, the different time, different country, different world...

    And my favorite things are the opening line, and the illustration of you running down the alley, arms out as if you could fly. It made me recall how it felt to run flat out when I was little, the feeling of great speed and GOING somewhere.

    So did your parents take long to find you, once they knew you were missing? Or was the park (and the train) a logical early guess? Nowadays a parent would freak out if a three year old wandered off - back then it was cause for concern and an immediate search, but maybe not quite alarm? I guess we trusted the world more with precious things like children.

  9. marja-leena - Your first comment didn't make it through so I'm glad you re-posted. I'm also happy you enjoyed the story. My family nowadays mostly consists of a few dear friends.


gfid - I should have forewarned you about the bedtime story but I'm delighted you found it so quickly. Sometimes the most meaningful stories have the most clarity - rather like pure notes in music or the exploration of musical themes. Sometimes I hit the right note out of serendipity.


randal - It doesn't slip away so much as dip to an unconscious level as we develop adult understanding. Blessed are those who can come full circle.


mary ellen - I'm just happy you came by to visit.

That's funny that your little girl had much the same habit. I think it shows an innate sense of trust in the world and the people who look after her. Naturally, it's far from the end of learning about what's safe and what's not but it's a good start. People like your daughter and I need good parents like you.

    jams - The little harnesses were kind of cute and pretty practical now I look back at them. These days too many children are still in push chairs not because they can't walk but because they can't go fast enough to suit their parents.

    steve - I've noticed I have a tendency toward simpler thought processes when I approach these stories and the further back in time the more basic they become.
    I think it didn't take my parents that long to find me but I'm quite sure they didn't buy me an ice cream on the way home. Nowadays people immediately panic because of the paranoia of abduction. Then it was not a consideration.

    I'm always happy to read your interpretations of my work.

  10. You were an adventurer even at such a young age! I'm not surprised!

    This is delightful and inspiring. I have many memories going back as far as age two, I'm assuming. Almost pre-verbal, the memories I have are of scents and textures and strong emotions.

    I may have to write them down as vignettes one day.

    Thank you.

    A lotta love,

  11. gina - I'm sure my parents weren't too thrilled about my headstrong behavior but it all turned out okay.

    Really old memories are tricky things. It would be a neat exercise for you to let them come through into words some day. If you wanted to share them I'd love to read.

  12. i ran away to get married when i was 3. always a woman ahead of my time ;0)

  13. yes, you are absolutely right, i was home in a flash if possible UNLESS i was plied with crayons and paper or a book....and a quiet corner...always i have needed silence in which to think, even as a child...something people don't realize is that children need silence more than adults....so to run for me was to pretend i was a great white horse, which i firmly believed i was, and i would flee in great leaps and bounds...free!

    childhood is like no other....some good, some not so much but always there is the fantastical that i love to ponder and now, watch my gkids eyes light up at things so subtle, not seen except by me, the woman who is still that 5 yr. old child waiting to go play.

  14. gfid - Good one :-) you devil you.

    linda - It's sad to think that some people never had that natural sense of wonder nurtured when they were children. I wasn't always happy about being raised in the countryside but the benefits have been more apparent with the passing years. There was much silence, long days of contemplation in water and woods and lots of magical discoveries. Do you remember 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn' from
    'The Wind in the Willows'? It's a chapter that seems to define the deepest heart of childhood enchantment.. which is also the goal of all spiritual journeying.

  15. The drawings and the story are enchanting, Susan.

  16. your childhood sounds idyllic and much like we raised our kids, far in the country, no neighbors, no television, no interruptions to their play, their fantasies and their rapt reading and nature, outside, animals, hiking creeks fishing and pet turtles and frogs they found....

    now they are all intelligent and sensitive adults and i know it's partially due to that time of life as children...like none other and one they always laugh about with each other, reliving the time...

    for me, i lived in an abusive, alcoholic home, the unhappy lower income suburbs with an angry man down the street who would try and run us over with his big black car, if we were near the street when he came by, which he tried to be doing....i think back and shudder...

    thus, i was a child who lived inside my head and my books and drawings...i was very reclusive and very insecure and very intelligent and frightfully determined to be free at the tender age of 6-7...at least... a child learns to nurture themselves if it is missing, i have found, and the one thing i did have was time to myself, as i was not only good at hiding, my mother never wanted me around. we had a large backyard...i found nature fascinating, the creeping things, the crawling critters, banties and rabbits...so, tho it was a nightmare in lots of ways, abusive and horrid, there were blessings too and i am who i am today directly as a result....what more could we ask? ;) much love, my friend...xxx

  17. lisa - It means a lot to me that you enjoyed it.

    linda - Looking back I can understand how parts of my childhood were idyllic but some were definitely not. I have a tendency to portray positive incidents which is probably a weakness in me but I don't believe anyone gets a totally untroubled childhood - if they did they'd grow up to be intellectual mushrooms. Remember Shakyamuni's dad tried it with him and then look what happened. I think we need to contemplate all our experiences with the clarity and focus we gain with maturity. Most of us won't get as far with that as Gautama but I can't think of a worthier goal to embrace.

    I'm glad your children got to experience growing up on your beautiful northern Californian landscape. I'm glad you transcended a difficult childhood.