Virtue & Mischief: My little runaway, Part 1


At the recent Swensen (extended) family vacation in Brown County, Indiana, about 20 of us gathered one evening for our traditional “Pass, Pray, or Share” hour.

In practice, this tradition involves doing precisely what its title suggests: We sit in a circle and each person shares a reading or thought or memory, offers a prayer, or “passes” to the person next in line. As in years’ past, after our 2016 installment concluded in a quasi-formal sense, additional informal sharing took place. I forget now how it came up, but at one point in the proceedings I found myself reminding my family about the time in 1969 or 1970 when I ran away.

“Yeah, I remember something about that,” my mother mused. “Weren’t you at the Toal’s house? Didn’t you hide in a closet or something for several hours?” she added, the memory obviously dissipated by the passage of 45 years and, perhaps, its traumatizing effect on her.

“Oh, Mom. Wow. I can’t believe you don’t remember it better than that. Seriously? Let me help you out.”

“Yes, please do. I’m old. I need the help.”

“I was 8 or 9 years old and I was spending the night at David Toal’s house one summer night. You got that part right. We got to stay outdoors in their back yard, in a pup tent. We thought that was cool until (1) David’s older brother perched himself in a bough of a nearby tree and started sniping us with his BB gun, and (2) David’s younger brother, Michael, started nagging us in the way that younger siblings do—‘can I sleep you guys?’, ‘can I play, too?!’, ‘can Tim share his comic book with me?’, etc. It went on the entire night. We told Dave’s parents about our frustrations, but they were unsympathetic and told us to just deal with them.

By the next morning we were ticked off at everyone and everything. We decided, after getting our day started with a healthy breakfast of Sugar Smacks, to run away for a couple of hours. It was pretty early as I recall, and I remember thinking we could roam the neighborhood for a half hour or so, tell ourselves that we’d done whatever it was we’d set out to do, and probably be back before anyone even noticed we were gone. So we left. I remember we walked the couple of blocks to Kingston [our elementary school] and then marched down Salisbury street, stopping once in a while to just commiserate with each other about how terribly aggrieved we were by our pesky younger siblings, our domineering older siblings, our horribly uncaring parents, and so forth. I think I even tossed in a ‘woe is me’ line about the fact that you guys wouldn’t buy me a bike.”

“Ouch,” my sister Lisa interjected sarcastically. “That’s brutal.”

“Yeah. So we walked the entire way down Salisbury Street—probably a couple of miles or so, and we turned around to walk back. We’d been gone about an hour and a half by this point, but we were still feeling pretty salty and rebellious so when we reached the Harrison Street bridge over the Wabash River we thought ‘hey, we could cross the bridge and go into Lafayette! Cool!’ So we did. Once we crossed the river we took a right hand turn and walked around the Tippecanoe Courthouse. I have a vague memory that we went into Loeb’s department store for a couple of minutes so that we could get a drink from a water fountain, and then went east instead of west or north like we should have and we got lost in a pretty dodgy part of town. By this point it was really hot, we were getting hungry, and we were crossing paths with some unsavory characters.”

“Oh my God,” my mother swooned, some of the details beginning to re-enter her consciousness. “Now I know why I chose to forget this little chapter of your life. If I wasn’t so old and forgiving I’d wring your neck for putting me through all this crap I’d forgotten.”

“What happened then?” Abby asked—no doubt wanting to discover more material she could use in the future against me, and probably savoring the details of my punishment at the conclusion of the story.

“Well, Abby, as you can see I didn’t die.”


“But—and I know you’ll find this difficult to believe—what we did later was even dumber than the decision to run away in the first place, dumber than crossing the bridge over the Wabash, and dumber than getting lost in downtown Lafayette.”

“Really?? What’d you do??”


Next week: “My Little Runaway, Part 2”.

By Tim Swensen

Virtue and Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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