The Day I Ran Away from Home: An Epic Fail

Kid on railroad tracks running away from home with hobo pack I ran away from home once.  I was 11 and my brother, Corey, was an immature 14, when we opted for our own independence.  Maybe we'd read too many Choose Your Own Adventure books, because we were ill prepared for the loneliness of the vagrant life.  Nevertheless, our lives had come to a junction that demanded desperate actions, and we accepted the challenge with idiotic gaiety.  I even made a stick with a handkerchief tied up containing all the necessities that would keep me alive for approximately nine hours. I was a regular Tom Sawyer.

Two steps away from the trail connected to our backyard we heard:

"HEY BOYS!" Our slave driving father yelled from the back deck, "Get back and clean up this sheetrock mess!"

We stopped in our tracks. I guiltily looked at my feet, sure that the machine guns would open on us any second. We had gone AWOL, trying to avoid the two hours of slave labor that had been thrust onto our youthful bodies.

men facing firing squad for treason cowardice in wwI french british german soldiers troopsOur unrelenting general father would surely have us shot.

Yet he didn't.  Maybe he didn't know our intentions. Maybe the old Dad, the guy who loved us unconditionally, and didn't need us to be his grunts for the last year of home remodeling, had resurfaced. Maybe he felt sympathetic. Aware that he had pushed us too far, too fast, too young, into the glazed eyed world of overworked men. Maybe we would finally get some leave time, and let our fried nerves and muscles regain their composure.

"What are you boys doing?"

"Nothing, we were just..." I laid my stupid hobo stick down, hoping he hadn't seen it yet. Corey finished my response, "We were just going to the pit for a little while." The pit was an abandoned gravel pit about a 1/4 mile down a trail through the back forest. Our destination--an industrial wasteland that somehow maintained wildlife including an unnatural pond stocked with disgusting, most likely radioactive, perch fish; surely this environmental pariah could also sustain two homeless, world-weary boys.

Kids working in the coal mines before child safety work laws black smout on faces
Just another day working in the
coal, house construction
"I didn't say you could go to the pit!  I want this sheetrock mess swept up before dinner.  It's a 45 min. job that you boys have dragged out for the last few hours!"

We reluctantly sauntered back to the house.  Our escape only made it 200 feet to the back of the yard, a complete and utter failure.  Four in the afternoon was a stupid time to try an escape. I'd remember that for the next time. Obviously, we weren't very serious about our freedom.

I looked back at my hobo sack, the product of an hour's work. Runaways need to advertise their independence. Surely my red kerchief said, "Badass: don't mess with me."

But my street savviness didn't translate with Dad. Dad simply said do, and we did. There was no arguing, no making deals, no manipulating, ours was not to question why, ours was to do and...

Godfather's Pizza desert cinnamon streusel pie
Godfather's dessert pizza...mmm. 
Then, like a coach sensing that morale was down, my dad said, "If you get it swept up in the next hour, we can all go to Godfather's Pizza tonight."

Oh sweet words. Oh sweet, sweet, loving father. I've wronged you father. I'll never run away, again.

It's amazing how bitterness works, as well as love, forgiveness and pizza. We brothers as a tandem had grown increasingly angry about having to help out in the home remodeling business. It was Dad's fault we bought a stupid plain 1920s church building that needed everything updated. To convert a frontier church into a modern home was insanity. No walls, no working kitchen or bathroom, just one large room with "beautiful hardwood floors" that needed months of refinishing. We hated that house, and the constant chores we had to do to make it livable. We were kids, not a construction crew.

Such was our "tortured" life in the early 1990s in Northern Washington. The neighbor kids grew up like peasants, helping out their families on massive dairy farms; slogging through cow dung, bucking hay, and milking cows. We didn't think of the timeless plight of farm kids, though. Only the glorious life we had before the church-house. We were kids, then, with no muscle mass, and no aching backs. Only stupid adventures, carefree collections, and entertaining ourselves for hours with child's play.


Ward Beaver June Cleaver family Leave it to Beaver photo 1950s Nuclear family
We were the perfect nuclear
family, then my sisters had
to go and be born.  Geesh.  
That difficult moment in life ended soon after. Three solid years of massive home remodeling (or demolition, as it often was) translated into a beautiful two story house.  The year of living in a twenty foot travel-trailer, of constant debris in living spaces, of exposed wires and leaking pipes, and a dad who hit thumbs with hammers, and said exotic expletives we only knew from legend, all this chaos ended, and we became a family again.  

Those unintended angry words, the constant frustration, the flustered look of mom magically making the bills work out, all that ended too. And our real Dad came back. The man who had been working 40 hours at his church, dealing with other people's problems, coming home to work another 4 hours on our "church," delegating most of my middle school years into constructive construction tasks, he was gone.  As the last touches of finished carpentry were nailed up, he learned to relax. We finally had a home. One from which I no longer wanted to escape. The stress of massive home renovation is enough to tear even the stablest families apart. We barely survived.  

Cougar winking at camera puma mountain lion cute
Here's looking at you kid.

Ten months later, we sold our beautiful home and moved to Oregon. Into another fixer-upper. And it started all over again. But Mom and Dad had learned something about keeping a family intact during chaos.  The money wasn't so tight this time, and Dad was more accommodating of our youthfulness. And Corey and I? We had learned how to work. So when it was time to help build our new home, we complained, but not enough to run away.  

Which is a good thing, too. Because I totally would've died of exposure within 24 hours, or been violated by a cougar.  (which I guess to a teenage boy, is kind of a fantasy).  

Unfathomably, 1.5 million U.S. kids run away each year. Unlike myself, many have legitimate reasons.  If you'd like to help, check out the National Runaway Safeline or other programs.  And take your kid out to pizza every now and then to prevent pent up feelings.  


  1. That's the problem with all you cry babies these days. Oh work, oh, aw aw wine wine or is that beer beer. When i was a kid I walked 5 miles to school and when I got home had to do 5 hours or farm work. Real man work! Then I had home work from that one room school house. My Mammy made me do every single lesson. When i got up I had to milk the goat so all my 5 simblins could get some milk to drink. So all you little wimpies out there listen up to this guy, hear me. He's not into no vampire pretty boys crap and you won't have to worry about being bit by some girl that doesn't get enough protein!

    1. Uh, yeah. What anonymous said. Listen up vampire girls--I ain't want no part of you all, you lily white weirdos.

  2. We used to have to do hard labor, too. My dad was a contractor who enlisted us for slave labor often. In fact, we did a remodel, too. One time the ceiling collapsed on our heads...good times. I like to think I'm a better person for it.

    1. We had a ceiling collapse as well; luckily nobody was in the room at the time. Somewhere around 16 years-old, I realized I wasn't mistreated, and that I actually learned some valuable skills from it all.

  3. Ha ha, that brought back some memories. Now I bet you're glad you learned all those skills, and were able to completely remodel your kitchen and bathroom, and update other things around your house. And some fine work, too. Do you realize how much money people dole out to have their places remodeled? Either that, or they have their kids do it. :)

    1. I need to start getting my daughters into manual labor. Lily can learn how to use the table saw, Nadia the chainsaw. Er, maybe not.

      Yes, Mom, I did learn some valuable tools that have allowed me to be the cheapskate I am now.

  4. My dad was the weekend warrior type. We were always tackling random odd jobs around the house on the weekend. It was never quite renovating a Church to a home, which is probably why I liked doing that stuff. I got to do it sometimes, sounds like you got to do it alot.

    1. I wish I had the energy to be a weekend warrior. I'm a mid-July warrior. I usually get one major project done each year.

  5. I don't have any comparable experiences in renovating. But the comment at the end of your post about 1.5 million kids in the USA running away each year...many of them for genuine reasons...really got to me. I watched the "Runaway Train" video. Wow! Even though the kids in that video would probably be in their thirties now, those faces could be replaced by other faces of kids on the streets right now. It is so important that our kids know that no matter what, they are loved deeply and unconditionally. If they know that, no matter how hard a particular aspect of life might seem at the time, hopefully they will no that running away won't put them in a better situation.

    And that image at the end of the mother finding her baby's stroller empty. Now THAT would be about the worst nightmare I could possibly imagine.

    1. Julie, I debated not putting the video in, since it doesn't really fit the tone of my story. Yet, I really loved this song way back in the early 1990s, and it has a great message, so I included it. Sorry to set off "mom" alerts.

  6. My city girl self was too chicken to run away into the scary, homeless-filled streets. I'd usually just climb to the top of our roof in the hopes that they'd think I'd ran away. In reality, they probably didn't even realize I was missing. I was a quiet child that usually found an isolated corner in our backyard to play in anyway.