It is 78 miles from Strong City, Kansas, to Riley. That would be about three marathon runs or a good day or two on a bicycle. To walk it, nonstop, would take about 20 hours. Of course, by vehicle, it would only be about an hour and a half.
When you’re a 12 year old brother you have a few simple goals. The first is to bug, bother, and generally harass your little sister and her friends. On the other hand, when you have a big sister, your goal is to bug, bother, and generally harass her and her friends, AND not to be killed. The third is to avoid parental supervision at all costs.
The third goal is of paramount concern as a preachers kid. It’s acceptable to harass your sisters, just don’t get caught. The worst thing that can happen in a preachers family is for the public or congregation to see your family having behavioral problems. There is a great deal of pressure to maintain the “pleasant smile and quietly do as you’re told” personae. We were taught not to embarrass dad or do anything which would make him uncomfortable in front of people. Since he was constantly in front of people, the pressure for good behavior was unrelenting.
All you have to do is throw in a couple 12 or 13 year old friends, to show off for, and a recipe for disaster has been mixed.
My big sister, Louise, and I maintained a testy relationship. At one moment she might be nice enough to let me play her drum set and an hour later I am running across the yard from her as she attempts to beat me senseless, for some smart remark I’ve made to her. Yes… for every up there was a down. A sort of balance.
At the time, Louise was living in Manhattan. It was only about 20 minutes away, so she helped out with the Riley church youth group. One summer in the late 70’s a camping trip was planned for the youth group.
Our group consisted of about 8 kids and my sister as leader. The trip itself was fun. I only got into trouble a few times. By the end of the trip, though, everyone was getting tired, especially my sister and I. As time went by, the friction between her and me seemed to increase.
Of course, Louise was doing what big sisters do. Her job was to tell me to do something. Of course, she knows I’m not going to do it without a smart remark. She then trounces me for not obeying her or mouthing off.
Luckily for me there were other kids on the trip, from the church, so the pummeling probably wouldn’t involve blood, broken bones, or being buried alive. Those were all possibilities since we were so far from home. A little brother always has to think through the odds of survival when he is out in the wilderness with an older sister.
Like I’ve said before, Mom and Dad only needed 5 or 6 kids, but had 7. They figured a couple of us would get knocked off along the way. This was one of those times where I could end up in the knocked off category.
On the return trip we stopped at the home of another one of my sisters, near Cottonwood Falls. The next day we loaded up the station wagon and left for home. It was a bright sunny day. My sisters house was a couple miles outside of town.
As we pulled onto the highway, I said something that upset Louise, who was driving. This was the last straw for her. She told me I could just walk home. At that point I was angry and told her that was fine with me…..”I WILL walk home.”
And with that…. she hit the breaks hard…….. the car skidded to a sudden stop. I defiantly climbed out the door and……vrrooom……. she sped away………..
There I was…….standing by myself………in the road……mad as a hornet.
I was thinking anger and revenge….I’ll show her!!….. She’ll regret this.
I realize that these were not very kind or christian thoughts, but I was 12 years old, tired, mad, and just abandoned by my older sister. I wasn’t thinking anything, but I’m mad and I’ll show her!
I knew it was about 80 miles home, but I’d made the trip by car many times over the years. I knew the route. It seemed very doable. Plus I wasn’t about to let my big sister see me crack. Apparently, she thought I would be standing on the side of the road crying because she taught me a lesson.
It actually had the opposite effect. It had become a quest. “I’ll show her…..I’ll make her eat her words.”
Realistically, however, I had no money or water so the reality of my situation hadn’t set in yet. At this point, I was just mad and that was the motivator for making the long walk home.
I started walking down the county highway into Cottonwood Falls and turned north on state highway K-177. I had gone a couple miles and was just getting to the Cottonwood River.
Suddenly, I heard a car pull over beside me. It was HER….Louise!…… My sister yelled out the window. She snidely asked If I’d had enough of the walking. I told her I was just fine walking. She then ordered me to get back in the car. I ignored her and continued walking north along the highway toward the river bridge.
Louise continued to drive the car slowly along the shoulder beside me. She continued to order me back into the car. Louise told me I was just being stupid for believing I could walk all the way home.
At this point, there was no way I was going to suddenly say, “You’re right Louise. I’m stupid for thinking I could walk home.”
There were many years of pent up little-brother-big-sister drama coming to a head. I was usually the one with little or no power in this relationship. I was the one always running for my life, tied to trees, or ground-pounded playing ball. I rarely had the ability to strike back or have any control. At that point, something had sort of snapped. I was mad and I wasn’t going to do what she told me, especially after she dumped me and drove off.
I continued walking along the highway toward the river. Louise drove along beside me while I ignored her orders. She, of course, got louder and more angry. I became more defiant and forged ahead.
After several tense minutes of this walking stand-off, I heard the car suddenly stop. Louise got out of the car. She yelled to the other boys in the group, “get him and drag him back in the car.”
So 2 or 3 of my friends and Louise came at me. It was a big showdown…….At that point I decided the river would give me the best chance to escape. We’ve all seen movies where the good guy leaps into the river to escape his pursuers. So, I ran toward the river bridge which was only about 50 yards away……I had to get far enough away to lose them. I could then continue my trek toward home. No one had any bloodhounds to track me so I had a chance….if I could just get away……..
The problem was that, not only was I born without the family musical genes, but also lacked athletic ability. In other words, I ran with the speed of a snail. My friends were much faster than me and caught up with me before I could get to the river.
They tackled me and we ended up on the ground at the south end of the river bridge flailing and rolling in the grass. My sister piled on and the struggle was afoot. Luckily, they weren’t trying to hurt me. They were just trying to grab me by the legs and arms and drag me into the car. I was, by this time, furious and out of control.
We were rolling and kicking. I began yelling, “get off me! Help me! Let go!…Help!!” Arms and legs wildly flew as I attempted to push them off and break free of their grip.
That’s when everyone suddenly…………… paused……………..As the pile of people looked up in unison…………………to see a wide-eyed man standing there with a shocked look on his face. Louise immediately yelled to the stranger that we were fine and had everything under control. We didn’t need his assistance.
I should have stopped and quietly gotten into the car as I was told. That would have been the preachers kid thing to do……Just smile and tell the good samaritan everything is ok…..Just a small misunderstanding……I’m good……………..But I didn’t.
They drug me into the car and had someone sit on either side of me to keep me from getting loose. Louise then pulled back onto the highway and quickly headed north toward home. Both of us were still fuming.
I was still sure that I could find a way home on my own….If I could… just get to the door handle,….I could leap out when we came to a stop sign. I was so mad at my sister that all I could think of was getting away.
As the car moved along the highway, everyone began to relax a bit. The adrenaline began to wear off as we settled in for a quiet ride home. The wind through the car window was warm and had a way of helping everyone to relax.
Louise had taken care of a tough situation and regained control. She was in the clear. It was just a quick drive and we’d be home……………………….
Louise had made it about a mile to the next town, Strong City, and was making a turn when someone said, “hey a cop is coming up behind us real fast. ” I turned my head and saw the car quickly catching up with us. It was a blue and gray patrol car of the Kansas Highway Patrol. The state police were here and we seemed to be the center of their attention.
Suddenly, the big red revolving light on the roof lit up. He was right on our rear bumper, so it was obvious he wanted Louise to stop. She pulled off on a side street with the State Trooper right behind us.
I think I know how the settlers felt when the cavalry showed up in the nick of time to save them. I was so happy, I couldn’t believe it. I had always been taught great respect for the Kansas Highway Patrol and on this day they had shown themselves worthy of this admiration. They showed up in the nick of time.
I watched the State Trooper place his smokey bear hat on his head and then talk on his radio microphone. He then slowly stepped out of his car. He stood tall and ramrod straight. He seemed like a mountain, he was so big and tall.
He stepped up to the car while looking through the windows at a bunch of kids whose eyes were bugging out and mouths hanging open. He leaned into the drivers window and introduced himself. He then told Louise that he had a report that this vehicle had been involved in the kidnapping of a young boy………
I was saved by the Kansas Highway Patrol. I felt like the little guy who was bullied and suddenly his big brother shows up to even the score. The Trooper had my sister get out and stand by the front of the car where he talked to her.
I sat there thinking, “please handcuff her,… please handcuff her.” Maybe he’ll throw her on the hood of the car and search her like they do on tv.
The Trooper then leaned into the open door and asked me who I was. I told him my name. I then,….. reluctantly,…. admitted that she was my sister. I thought twice about it but realized there were all these other kids there who would confirm her identity if I didn’t. I then told him I didn’t want to go with her. He had me get out and he put me in the front seat of his patrol car. Inside his car there were radios talking and switches lit up all over the place. As a young boy, I was blown over by the sights and sounds of these surroundings.
After several minutes, the Trooper climbed back into the drivers seat of the car and took off his hat. He still seemed like a giant to me.
He asked me what had happened and I told him about being kicked out of the car and told to walk home. I assured him that I was able to make the long walk. I just couldn’t go with my sister in that car.
The Trooper talked to me in a very kindly voice. He questioned whether I could really make such a long walk home. I again assured him that I would make the trip without any problems. All I needed was for him to let me try.
He looked at me and smiled. He then nodded to himself affirmatively. The Trooper then said he believed I probably could make that long trip. This made me feel wonderful. The Trooper was agreeing that I had the ability to make the long trip home. My self esteem and spirits raised immeasurably. This giant of an officer, who I was in awe of, had agreed with me. I felt vindicated. I could feel the affirmation flow over me like warm water.
We sat there a few minutes quietly. He then turned and asked me if I could help him with something. Of course, I would do you a favor. You just saved me from my big sister and you believed what I told you. You believed in me……. I’d do anything you need. Just name it…
The Trooper then said to me, “I need you to get back in the car with your sister and ride with them to Riley.” “But I know I can make it myself. I really can!”, I objected. The kindly Trooper said, “I know you can make it. There’s no doubt. The problem is that when people drive by you on the highway, they’re going to keep calling in to report a young man who may need assistance. Another officer or I will have to come over and check it out, because we won’t know that it’s you. That means we might be busy checking on you when someone has a wreck or needs help. So you see, you’d be doing me a big favor by getting back in the car and riding back with your sister.
The Trooper was not only kind, but also very clever. He could tell that I was in awe of him and that I was more than willing to do him a favor.
I got out of the Trooper’s patrol car and climbed back in the station wagon. I just sat there quietly for the 78 mile trip to Riley. It was one of the few times in history where Louise and I were in the same vehicle for any amount of time and didn’t try to bug, bother, or generally harass each other.
I think the other kids were still in shock most of the way, as well. However, I’m sure they had one of the best youth group adventure stories to tell. The day the preachers daughter kidnapped the preachers son, who was then rescued by the State Trooper.
As bad as it may sound now, I’d gotten revenge on my big sister for kicking me out of the car and leaving me to walk. She hadn’t been handcuffed, but there’d be other trips. After all, hope springs eternal. The Kansas Highway Patrol had my back that day and that was worth a hundred big-sister beatings.
When it comes to dad and what he thought when he heard the story…………….. I imagine it was along the lines of, “Remind me again why we didn’t stop at 4 kids?”