There’s a fine line between running for your life and outright panic. That being said…
Living in a small Kansas town of about 950 people has its own set of fun things to do. You learn that fun is where you make it, but sometimes there is a price. As a preachers kid, I was always looking to push the boundaries. To see what I could get away with.
As a 6th or 7th grade boy with a small group of friends the list of activities usually involved showing off or antagonizing an older kid. We never messed with younger kids or bullied anyone. We went for the bigger kids. The ones who were too uptight to let a younger boy make them look bad.
I was at just the right age where I wasn’t a little kid, but not a big kid. I was stuck at that in-between age. I was able to run around town, even after dark, since it was a quiet little town.
The memories from that part of my life seem to revolve around doing something to get the attention of any high school kid who had a car. We would then do something to anger or embarras them. The result usually was that they chased us in their car or occasionally on foot.
I have many memories of running for my life, through town.
If we weren’t being chased, there was usually someone we had upset on an earlier occasion. This meant that as we roamed around town on foot or bicycle, we always kept an eye out for that one person. The one who recently yelled he’d beat us up when he caught us. We were like deer, always looking around for the predator.
Many times we didn’t think and got in over our heads, way too quickly.
On one particular night it was near midnight and the four of us were walking around town. We snuck into the backyard of a house where they had a grapevine. We each picked a bunch of grapes off the vine and we walked around town eating fresh grapes. They were so sweet and delicious to the taste.
By the time we had walked to the north side of town, we had finished our grapes. We were thinking about what to do next.
I want to remind you that this was a group of unsupervised young boys. We weren’t likely to think something grown-up or even smart at this point.
Having finished the grapes, we found ourselves walking along the main highway at the edge of town, US-24. In the still of the night we heard a car approaching on the highway from the west. As it’s headlights became visible in the distance, one of the boys suddenly yelled, “Everyone drop your pants!”
So without an inkling of hesitation, all four of us dropped our pants as we walked along the side of the highway.
Then, not to be outdone, another one yells excitedly, “Moon’em!”
Once again, no one questioned it and everyone dropped their underwear. So there we went, all four of us, with bare rear ends, walking along the highway. All four of us laughed nervously as the headlights of the car came up on us from behind. The car’s headlights clicked onto highbeams so that the driver could get a good view of what was standing on the side of the highway.
As the car sped by us at 55 miles per hour, the driver could clearly be seen looking sideways at us. As he reacted to what he apparently saw, he slammed on his brakes and slid to a stop at the next intersection about 75 yards down the road.
It should be noted that in 1978 the Kansas Highway Patrol was still driving their very distinctive patrol cars. They were blue and gray with a large gold badge on the door and the big single red revolving light on the roof.
As the Trooper flew past us, all I could see was that gold badge on the side and him looking over at us.
He got to the intersection and turned around.
That’s when one of the boys yelled, “Run for your life”, “everyone scatter!”
All four of us took off south through the ditch and the tall weeds on the other side. Of course I was stutter stepping and tripping as my escape was made. It quickly became apparent that I was unable to run because I still had my pants and underwear pulled down. So as I ran into the thicket of stickers, I was pulling my pants back up, zipping up, and trying to buckle my belt. The stickers poked and scratched me as I pushed through the weeds and then suddenly, there was the barbed wire fence.
I sort of did a cartoon move where I ran into it and bounced off of it in the dark and landed amongst the stickers and brush.
I will admit that I had gone completely over that fine line between running for my life and just straight panic. I was sure that the Trooper was right behind me and having suffered the indignation of being mooned by a group of young boys was probably in the mood to shoot.
Actually, I had been brought up to respect law enforcement and I thought State Troopers were the coolest of the cool. I would love to be one when I grew up.
I was more worried about the personal embarrassment if caught by the Trooper and having to admit that I had done it.
Those thoughts came later though. At this point I was in complete panic running through the dark.
I got back up and scrambled over the barbed wire fence with several cuts on my arms and legs. I then ran south into town. It was a small town and late so there was no traffic, except for the Trooper. I could hear his car cruising around town.
Suddenly, a car turned the corner directly behind me and in terrified panic I ran as fast as I could through the back yards of the houses to avoid being seen. I felt like I was running 70 or 80 miles an hour through the darkened yards.
Suddenly…. my face stopped………. but my legs and body kept running at full speed. An unseen object had caught me by the mouth. My legs kept trying to run and the object sort of gave way, again like a rubber band. I could feel it pulling on my head by the mouth. I think I felt like a bass caught on a lure. As I tried to move forward, It finally bent as far as it could and snapped me backwards like a slingshot. I was laid flat on my back with the wind knocked out of me. As I layed there in the dark, it began to sink in that I had just ran into a clothesline, which caught me right at mouth level.
My lips, tongue, and mouth in general, felt the sting of the full impact. I could also tell that the metal wire had scraped my teeth as it impacted my mouth.
After a few moments of getting my breath back, I quickly looked around for someplace to hide.
Low and behold I saw a dim light coming from the back yard cellar, or cave as some folks call them. It was really strange because I knew an old lady lived in the house and wouldn’t be in her cellar so late at night. All the lights were out in the house.
So, out of desperation, I crawled across the yard and peaked into the cellar. There was a single lightbulb hanging from the stone roof. It revealed shelves which were full of jars of home-canned fruits and vegetables.
I scrambled down the dirt covered stone steps and floor. There was an old wooden crate in the corner and I used it as a chair.
I sat there staring at the door. I was sure that the Trooper would spring through the door at any moment. I was so scared that I was shaking. I felt my face and realized I was bleeding from the mouth. I could also feel that several of my teeth had been chipped.
I sat there for probably half an hour and then snuck through the dark, back to my house. I was only 2 blocks from the parsonage.
The next day in Sunday School I had to tell them I had tripped and fell flat on my face. I had bruises and a little swelling in addition to the scratches and cuts from the stickers and barbed wire.
I didn’t have to worry about the story getting out because one of the group was a preachers kid from another church in town. He wasn’t about to let that story out.
After having been a law enforcement officer myself, I am betting that the Trooper was the one person in all this to have fun. After all, he turned around on a group of young boys mooning him. He knew that he’d scared the life out of us when he slammed on the brakes and turned around.
Life would have ended if I had been caught and taken home by the trooper. Once again, mom would have said, its ok officer, we have seven kids, but only need six……Keep him!!
As I sit here remembering that night I can still feel two teeth that are chipped. It reminds me that the stuff the Roadrunner and Coyote do, actually hurt when you’re not a cartoon.
A word to the wise……If you’re willing to show your rear to a stranger, you’d better be willing to get a few stickers and briars in it for the effort.