I initially started "running away" at around age six, camping overnight in the brush off of a "turn around" that later became known as "the bus turn around" because the school bus stopped there. I would sneak in in the pre-dawn hours, take some juice or chocolate milk, wash my glass like it had never happened, and see the cats.
The next day my mom came down the road, skipping past me and whistling a cheery tune, carrying a tray stacked with my favorite food items. Being young and dumb and only six I would call out from my hide away to ask her why she had made that stuff and whom she had made it for, and she would reply, "I don't know. Are you interested in any of it?" Bribes were just her way of doing business with children.
I actually had gotten my first job by arguing for it, delivering newspapers to the neighbors when I was three. I could actually do addition and subtraction on paper as well as in my head at that age (in base 10 and base 2 actually, because my father had taught me the base 2 and my mother was teaching my sister the base ten stuff as part of my sister's "kindergarten readiness" program though my sister always just stomped her foot and screamed "no" at my mother and never learned much, but I did). So my neighbors always paid part of what they owed and I kept an accurate record of what they still; owed and haggled for it till paid in full.
This romance ended when I broke my arm, falling off a board we'd propped on our slide, with the board landing on me and me on the arm and both bones in my arm breaking completely, each in two places, so that my bones were in pieces, not joined at all (it hung down mid calf, and when my mom stepped outside to see what had happened, I was not crying she said, but I held my arm up to her with the other one, showing her it, and said, 'Mommy, fix this;' it was one of the times that I wanted to rely on her; the other was the time a baby tornado caught up my sister and me when we were playing outside in our 'sunsuits' twirling our umbrellas; it turned our umbrellas inside out and took us whirling through the air in different directions, me crashing into a tree; when she got there the wind was still holding me up pinned in the tree; she said, 'put the umbrella down;' and I said 'I don't know how,' and so she managed to reach it and took it and put it down and I was able to get down).
My mom took over my route for me but then returned it and I took a while to heal but healed completely.
My next job was at age 7, as a volunteer babysitter, for a neighbor of ours, whom my mother had to take to the beautician to have her hair done. The eldest son was my age but I was chosen for the job because I could dial phone numbers and hang onto phone numbers and addresses too and not lose them, and could relay messages, and was considered reliable. I mostly waited by the phone while the boys napped and when they finally got up I explained to them where their mother and my mother were.
At eleven I finally got a paid babysitting job, babysitting for two neighbor children, whose mother was Iranian and whose father from the U.S. The first time I was there was uneventful enough but the next time, the boy, a few years younger than me and somewhat bigger (I had not entered my growth spurt; he had), burned his mother's shoes in the oven, chased his sister with the hot oven rack, let his estranged (but sometimes around) father's rooster into the house who perched on a light pole, and scratched up the Christmas records I had brought with me and played for them with a file before finally shutting off the fuses. I called my mother who came down and made the child tell her where the fuse box was. I had my mother call the mother the next day to tell her her children were getting too big and I could not sit for them anymore.
For Halloween I decided to make tricks for the neighbors. My mother made comments about her food budget and said she would nevertheless buy candy corn which everyone liked, although I insisted I was taking care of people. My sister and I scooped up a bunch of seaweed from the waterway and I froze it in ice cube trays and popsicle molds after mixing some blue food coloring into some. My mother complained about the waste of food but I told her that it was all free. She complained about the waste of freezer space and asked what she would do if she wanted ice cubes or to make popsicles. I told her it would be all hers after Halloween.
Another talent of mine was fudge and I suppose a bit of that did get wasted; I got some rocks and dipped them in some of the fudge I made. I wrapped the seaweed popsicles and cubes and the fudge-dipped rocks in foil and put them all in the freezer. On Halloween night my mother stayed apart from me, by the front door, with the candy corn, which she gave generously, but I insisted people come into the kitchen and get some special trick or treats. The boy who'd ruined my babysitting the year before was one of the visitors and my sister and I went outside with him to watch him try the stuff, which he did. He finally asked how rocks got mixed with the chocolate but we were howling.
He was actually a fairly "girl crazy" boy and a "wanna-be ladies' man" and I happened to have a very very few friends including one slightly overweight child with a crush on Donnie Osmond whom he did not really know. I wrote a letter the next summer in block writing that he would not recognize as mine and signed a variant of her name to it and also provided her phone number. He immediately borrowed our phone to call her. She could not remember writing the letter exactly but being one of the "dogs" at school she was very desperate to talk to a boy, any boy, even one a couple of years her junior, and finally said that maybe she'd written the note. They carried on and on but fortunately her parents were rather strict so he never found out who she really was or that she was overweight and unpopular. He kept gooing over the letter and conversation and my sister and I howled and howled again.
That summer the Bennetts moved in. Normally my mother disapproved of any schemes we had of trying to get in with neighbors to go swimming or anything but this time she encouraged us. Before the moving van was gone we were at their doorbell. We introduced ourselves as the neighbors and as just wanting to welcome them and found out a bit about them (they had studied at Wake Forest University together, he in Physics and she in biology; they started dating and soon could get no school work done so they married and then got plenty of school work done; once they graduated she put him through his PhD or something where he had studied among other things the anatomy and physiology side of physics; he had gotten a job working with the astronauts; they had a little girl and the wife was pregnant with the couple's second child). Soon enough they did pop the question: "Do either of you girls babysit?" We both chimed yes and gave them our rates which were low and we thus had a job. My sister liked to hang out with other kids on the street so she gave most of her work to me in the end which was good for me. She had another job with another set of neighbors and I also got to babysit some for them.
Dr. Bennett had both a pilot's license and a scuba license and I made arrangements for us to babysit free in exchange for lessons in scuba and a trip in the air. We each had a separate trip in the plane and got to handle the controls. Dr. Bennett arranged to use a neighbor's pool to give us scuba lessons and as I was really interested in the bends he and I talked and talked. I was having trouble in my creek dives with my eardrums which always almost exploded and he said that meant I should not dive so deep but might be able to do so someday. I never did get down past 30 feet however and never could.
The Bennetts moved to another part of town when I was in ninth grade. I tried to get a job at the nearby pharmacy but they had already hired a boy in my class. I tried repeatedly at a nearby plant nursery but they always said not now but maybe another time. I occasionally visited the Bennetts and managed to get another day babysitting too but they were not really within walking distance.
I entered tenth grade and the Bennetts moved out of the area but not before putting me in touch with some friends of theirs who lived in a not very nice part of Cape Canaveral. I got on once with the friends who promised to be back by midnight. The kids were great but their parents did not return till three in the morning. They'd been drinking and watching porn movies and wanted to go straight to bed so refused to give me a ride home and I had to walk the six miles by myself at that hour which got to be quite hair-raising as all the people out wanted to molest me and I got stalked quite a ways but managed to hold my own and zigzag in my jogging to elude some of them off and on, and so made it home in one piece. That was my last time babysitting in Brevard. I complained to the Bennetts about their friends and they apologized.
As for running away, I finally really ran away in ninth grade, and by that time I was in my growth spurt and so was a bit taller. I had as I said few friends being the dog of dogs and a late bloomer in all regards. One girl I was friendly with was a part-Cuban girl in my Spanish class. My sister promised that when my friend met her she would like her better than me which to some degree proved true. We got to spend a night at my friend's place finally after begging our mother many times, and as my friend had a ouiji board my sister and she got to manipulating it together while I "asked" it questions. It told me I had a terrible destiny unless I did something about it, that I should run away any time, that I should go to Miami or Sweden (my sister knew I was interested in running to one or the other or to California anyway). The next morning we all got in my girlfriend's boat and rowed to Kiwanis Island to play ball. We had to wade part of the way or something. As soon as we arrived my sister and my girl friend hit on the idea of playing "keep away." My sister kept shrieking, "look at her reach, look at her try for it, what a fool, she can't get it." This went on for about a half hour or so and then I excused myself saying I had to go to the bathroom. I walked towards the bathroom and when I was done I slipped out toward SR 520 and crossed the street and stuck out my thumb. I'd never felt so free. I soon had a ride with some hippies and thus I travelled.
My sister and my girlfriend who assumed I'd just given up on their being nice and had walked home continued to play ball together a Kiwanis, by then best friends. By that afternoon when it was time for them to row back to my girlfriend's house, I was in Fort Pierce. When my sister called my mom to come get her my mom asked where I was and my sister said that she thought I was with her at home and my mom said no and that was the first anyone even knew I was gone. I had finally gotten a ride with a rather stodgy guy who was going to Palm Beach but who turned off there and so I had to get a ride again. I then got a ride with a student at S.U.N.Y in New York and his best friend, a college drop out, on break for the winter holidays. They were headed to Miami to camp in a tent and go to the beaches. I told them I was eighteen and going to Miami to join a group working against the draft but then I retold my story and gave my true age, that I was fourteen and upset with my sister and mother and family in general and running away from home and was hoping to join an anti-war movement anyway and also to find a job in a laundry or something.
When we got to Miami the guys insisted I call my home so I did and when my mother asked me where I was I said "I am where I am" but she heard "Miami" anyway and tried to get the operator to verify that which was difficult but as I called several times while I and the guys argued an operator finally told her that was where the call was coming from and she told me I was in Miami and I asked her how she knew and she told me. The guys wanted to turn me into the cops and get on their way but I told them I'd never forgive them so they did not. They did not think they should take me camping either and they did not want to just let me out. So finally they decided to blow money on a motel and I waited for them to fall asleep which I knew would be soon and it was, in a few minutes, and I was on my way again, free again. On the way out I stopped by their car and took down the vehicle year make model and license number and color just so I could later let them know I was fine. I also left behind a short note saying I could not stay with them, sorry. I started walking a distance which my mother and I later calculated from maps was about ten miles,and so I got a bit of a tour of Miami. When dawn came I spotted a Catholic Church with a Spanish-speaking custodian and so inquired about the padre and told him I had left home and he sent me to an Episcopal Church not far away whose priest he said always helped run away children.
The Episcopal priest finally, after a long discussion, asked me if I would go back home if he gave me the bus fare to and I finally said probably and so he called the bus station and got the fare which was under $10.00 and handed me $10.00 which he said would be enough for my bus fare plus for a local bus to the bus station. I took the ten dollars and started walking again but never found the local bus. Instead I found more Spanish speakers who helped me finally find the bus station some miles away and I had enough to buy breakfast there after buying my bus ticket.
I was still wearing my four-colored corduroy pants (loud primary colors red, blue, yellow, plus ivory; pockets were one color and the side of the leg they were on another) I'd gotten for Christmas and the same floral print woven shirt I'd worn for my ninth grade photo and which I'd worn when I walked away from Kiwanis Park. I was also wearing bare feet. I stayed at the bus station till the bus came and realizing that by dawn my mother would do something to find me, did not venture out. I got on the bus and was even scared to get off and go to the bathroom so though I thought about trying to call my mother to let her know that I was o.k. and on my way home never did.
I finally got to the bus station back in Cocoa and called my mother who said I was dead then started screaming then said she could not take me anymore then told me to call my girlfriend instead, that she could not drive anyway as she was too upset, that they wanted to do something anyway. So I called my girlfriend and within a half hour she and her parents arrived and took me home to my mom who would not speak to me when I got there.
I called my girlfriend but she was not allowed to speak to me again for several days but then she was. As for my mother, I decided to go to bed and when I got up the next day I showed her where I'd been on a map and we had a great time talking about my adventures all day and made my siblings mad that they were not getting enough attention.
I had plenty of money at home from babysitting and so wrote to the episcopal priest thanking him for all his kindness and returned him his $10.00. I then managed to get the address of the DMV in New York and wrote them requesting information about the owner of the license plate number and they sent me a form to complete and return with a $1.00 fee.
So I completed the form and mailed it back with $1.00 and got the vehicle owner's address. I then wrote him a letter telling him how my sister had honed in on his address with a map, a crystal ball, and a ouiji board, being a witch. He did not believe me 100% but was unable to divine exactly how I'd gotten his address. He and his friend wrote me but then just he wrote me. He'd been a pre-law student he said but had decided to study instead sociology so he could counsel runaway girls. I told him to think about that twice but o.k. that he might still take his pre-law courses and do pre-law. He then wrote me that he was breaking up with his current girlfriend who was crying on his shoulder. I think he was hinting that the coast was clear for me but instead I wrote and told him to think twice about breaking up with someone. Then we quit writing. My sister only wanted to make sure I'd really convinced someone she was really a witch and so was really easier to please than they were I think.
I finally left at sixteen, long story, and got a job first as a mother's helper. During the school year I rented a room in Roger's Park which was fairly inexpensive with everything included. It did not have a kitchen but I could borrow a hot plate from the landlady. I had found a job at Howard Johnson's Skokie and worked Tuesday and Thursday from 3 p.m. till 11p.m. and then jogged to the Dempster Street Station 1 1/2 - 2 miles away and took a late subway home. On Saturday and Sunday I worked from 6 a.m. till 4 p.m. I got paid for my half hour breaks, ten cents an hour over the minimum wage (though they'd promised twenty cents an hour over the minimum they only paid ten), and all I wanted to eat. I snacked on dry cole slaw and either club soda or club soda mixed with orange juice when I worked. On my breaks I usually ate a chef's salad minus meat with a freshly-hard-boiled (to perfection) egg and diet Italian dressing and some rye rounds, but once in a while I had a basted egg with dry rye toast and whipped butter on the side and orange juice. I did my laundry at around 5 p.m. on Saturdays and after that shopped in a neighborhood grocery. On Sundays I studied at a bar and grill where I had a grilled cheese and a glass of water. I attended school Monday through Friday from 8 till 2:30 and then studied till 2:45 but jogged to work then. I actually arrived at school at 7:30 and studied then too. I also studied during my lunch break but first washed my hair in the p.e. shower as I had p.e. before lunch. I ran track after school with the boys Monday Wednesday and Friday but could not keep up so had to run with the football team. I studied with a boy who was on the track team and also in my French class at school for an hour after that but then went home, and on Monday nights studied again for an hour. On Friday I actually picked up my paycheck and went to the bank and also ordered a blueberry scoop with no cone from Howard Johnson's and sometimes went to Synagogue as I was thinking of converting to Reform Judaism. I wore a silver mezuzah (which replaced the peace symbol I'd worn at twelve-to-fourteen when I was allowed to do so, having just swapped sides on the war) and a red skullcap which I could not be made to understand was for boys only and talked to the Rabbi who was very nice once or twice about preparing for my Bas Mitzvah which I never did.
I paid for my own PSAT test which I took on a Wednesday as most of our school was Jewish (this worked out for me too as I worked Saturdays as did many of the Jewish students though they also had money and did not need to; but I think from the crowds at the Synagogue that working or hanging out were the more popular activities among the young). I did pretty well on the PSAT, well enough to get considered for a National Merit Scholarship, in spite of the headaches I was beginning to have from not eating, but did better on the SAT which I took the next year when I was living back at home. When I finally left Skokie, I bought my greyhound bus ticket home and on the bus met fellow travellers -- a boy who'd just gotten out of juvenile jail he would not say for what and had a prepaid ticket back to Knoxville and a girl who'd been sleeping under bridges who had a prepaid ticket back to her cousins in Miami -- I bought them coffee and snacks from the machine on the way down. The boy got off in Knoxville and the girl, even though her ticket was prepaid, decided to get off with me. She said she was seventeen but we checked on her; she was fourteen but was telling the truth that both her parents were dead. We called the boy from Knoxville and talked to him on the phone and my mom then got the girl into a foster home from which she soon ran away. In the meantime I gave my mom a check for $100.00 from my savings which she used to buy groceries believing I guess I only needed someone to buy groceries and I would eat (not sure what she thought about my weight which had dropped to 70 lbs at one point and then gone back up to 90 lbs but was still 15 lbs lighter than the 105 lbs I'd left home weighing; my mom does not really notice physical appearances and may have missed the changes in me anyway) and bought diet soda with the rest of my savings from Chicago so I could have something to eat when I studied as I was given a ton of make up work by my teachers at Merritt Island High (they were trying to make me redo the whole semester). The girl called us finally from Kentucky and I took her address and wrote to her but we then lost touch.
I got sick of making up the semester, got my mom to sign my drop out papers, lied about my age and said I was eighteen, and got a job at McDonald's.
My mother had gone back to work when I was six, and my sister seven and my brothers in kindergarten or not yet in school, first selling World Book, Fuller Brush, and tupperware door-to-door, as my father spent the year unemployed. My father then got a new job and my mother switched to selling Redbook and McCall's over the phone which she did for the next two years. When I was in fourth grade my mother went to work as a substitute teacher and then back to school nights to earn her science teaching credential. She continued either substitute teaching or teaching till I was through eighth grade and then went to work in a department store, where she worked for two years and was promoted to Department Chair. The year I left home she decided to be a "stay-at-home Mom" again as she had been before I'd entered first grade. However the next year she returned to full-time work only this time with the government, at better pay. But the year I worked partly away from home I am sure she was glad to have me give her money. I only actually gave her the $100.00 but bought gifts for all the family and also did some of their charts which I learned to do while away too, and did not need any money or anything all year, including for food (though my mom in the end gave me the insurance money she got when my bike was stolen so I could buy a new bike).