Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Widening Search

When I started my Quest for the Schofield Barracks Elementary School I thought it was going to be just around the corner at the end of the block. It wasn't. I looked all around the block. There were only homes. I had heard that the school was big. I expected to find children around it.

Instead of giving up, I widened the search. One of the things my Mother had taught me was not to step off the curb of the main thoroughfare by our house. The training consisted in taking me to it, letting me wander into it and then whacking me. I got the message. So I wouldn't cross that avenue or a parallel avenue like it a long block away. But the two avenues were connected by less trafficked smaller roads, that I now know were mostly 250 feet apart. After I was sure that there was no school on my block, I made the decision to risk crossing those streets. That greatly increased my range.

I left home every weekday that my Father went to work. I left as soon as my Mother wasn't watching me. I didn't keep to the sidewalks. I walked around houses, into backyards. I poked through openings I found in hedges. I followed alleys that the dump trucks used to pick up trash. Each day I followed a path identical to the path I followed the day before, except for new loops added to cover more ground.

The reason I tried to cover the same ground every day was because I discovered a source of food. It turned out that several of the wives staying home on weekdays were glad to offer cookies and pie and fruit to the stray cutie. So I learned to maintain a route that took me by all those houses. I would go so far as to knock at the door of the softest and most generous touches.

An amazing confluence of social and personal circumstances made the Quest possible. My Mother really didn't care that she couldn't find me for hours at a time. She wondered out loud about it, but she didn't want my disappearances to stop. She was glad to be rid of me. How the rest of the Army wives let her get away with it is a little harder to understand, especially for people who have never lived on an Army base in the Fifties.

There was in fact at least one woman, the one my Mother called the Meddling Bitch, who frequently called my Mother about my wanderings and told her she should keep better watch over me. After Mother hung up on MB a bunch of times, MB must have called some higher-ups, because there was at least one visit from the MPs about it when I was home.

But all that happened was, my Mother pointed out that MB raises the issue all the time, "but my son is never in any trouble, he's well-behaved, and he always comes home in time for dinner. Look, there he is, he's fine." "Well, he's awfully young to be wandering around by himself." "You aren't his Mother. You don't know him like I do."

That was the culture of that time and place. You didn't interfere with a parent's method of raising a child without proof that the child or society was in danger. As long as I didn't break into homes or beat preschoolers with a stick or get lost and spend a night outside and fall into a stream and drown in the dark, anything I did was between me and my parents. The MPs apologized for interrupting her day, left, and as far as I know never responded to another complaint about me.

My Mother came to be aware that there were women gossiping about what a horrible Mother she was. But Schofield Barracks in 1951 was a bastion for Parental Rights. If the Promise Keepers were around then, Schofield Barracks could have been their Promised Land.

I had no sense of time on my walks. I didn't know months then. But using maps and information I picked up later when I could ask about it, I know that I was still following my Quest until about the middle of October, after six or seven weeks of it. By that time I was beginning to lose hope of ever finding it. In all directions I had encountered avenues that I thought I shouldn't cross. My range was about 50 acres. The route I followed was twisted and crossed itself several times. It was at least a mile and a half long, maybe more like two and a half miles. Being a playful toddler disposed to stop and play in every puddle and look under every rock, I probably needed two or three hours to complete the route.

That was the routine when one day in October as I was at the Western edge of my route, I encountered a dark-skinned man working in what could have been a marching field. He saw me and walked over, bent down, smiled, and said, "Na wai ke kupu 'o 'oe?" Then he translated, "Whose little sprout are you?" I didn't know what either sentence meant at the time. I didn't know the word "sprout". But I liked the man's smile, and I liked the music his first sentence made, and I followed him until he met up with another dark-skinned man and the two of them spoke the same kind of music between each other.

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