Among the boxes I am sorting, I came upon memorabilia from my childhood that reminded me of when I was six, a tow-headed preacher’s kid riding my two-wheeler down the side walk of Montauk Highway on Long Island. In my right hand, I clutched a five-cent chocolate ice cream cone from The Dugout, a soda fountain and candy store. I’d had rare permission from my mother to bike the four blocks to the store to spend the nickel I’d earned dusting the many legs of the mahogany table, chairs, and buffet in the parsonage dining room. As I reached the corner of Atlantic Avenue, my street, Uncle Bill Luce—my favorite cop nicknamed “uncle”—was standing in the intersection. He raised his hand and motioned me to cross the street.
Or so I thought.
The next thing I remember is my little body being wedged between the radiator grill and a spike-like projection on the bumper of a ’46 Plymouth. The car’s radiator section was recessed into a V-shape, so there was just enough room for me on this narrow ledge. The chrome projection pushed into my waist, forcing me to gasp for breath.
My body began to shake. I must have done something wrong. I had apparently misread Uncle Bill Luce’s hand signal. In my six-year-old mind, I was at fault. I had disobeyed. And in disobeying I had almost gotten myself killed. And I knew to obey, to behave, to follow rules.
How would I be punished? Time-outs in a chair at the foot of my dad’s desk in his home study? Groundings from playing with my friend Joyce? Prayers that I would learn to obey for my own good?
I struggled to tumble free. Uncle Bill Luce had stopped the traffic and was racing over. I found my feet, tripped the few inches to my bike, stood it upright, and, with clouds whirling in front of my face, fought to focus as I jumped on the bike and took off, not checking for any cars, racing away from Uncle Bill’s words, “Lois, stop. Stop—”
My ice cream lay on the pavement melting.
Two blocks later, I rode up the long cement driveway between the small white church and the large white parsonage with its wide, open, front porch and snuck through the closed back porch into the kitchen. My mother stood at the sink along the opposite wall. She wore an apron tied at the waist and neck and her elbows were making kneading motions. She did not turn as I said “I’m home” in a small scared voice.
I hurried through the kitchen into the dining room. Right around the corner, I slithered under the long, dark buffet—the legs of which I had dusted just an hour before. I crouched between the curlicue legs and the wall.
My heart played hopscotch under my blouse as I pushed my sweated blond bangs off my forehead. My bent back felt as if I were still crunched against the slanted car radiator.
Mother hummed as she pounded dough. The grandfather clock chimed twice. The dark blue carpeting patterned with rose cabbage roses smelled wooly under my nose, like my deaf and blind grandma’s newly washed sweater.
Hearing the back door open, I pulled my arms in tightly to my body as if bracing for judgment day. I heard my dad say in a tense voice, “Where’s Lois?”
“I don’t know. Maybe in her room…” A pan clattered on the stove.
My dad’s words sped up. “I just saw Bill Luce at the corner and he said she was hit on her bike by a car, but she got up and rode off before he could stop her. He’s sure she’s hurt.”
I peeked out from under the corner of the buffet into the doorway to the kitchen. Dad was standing next to Mother by the sink. He spotted me, rushed over, and drew me out as I slid my tiny legs over the bracing. He gathered me into his arms. Over his shoulder, I saw my mother hurriedly wiping her hands on a dishtowel, her eyes wide with fear.
As I repacked the memorabilia, I could still feel the tightness, the warmth, the relief–the love of my dad’s hug. Sixty-two years later.