When my younger sister and I were growing up, we seldom had a babysitter. The philosophy seemed to be that children were in more danger staying with strangers than staying at home alone. But another danger of being left alone at home was that we didn’t have a telephone. So if something bad happened, we didn’t have any way to call for help. Looking back, I sometimes wonder how we survived.
I was a good kid, but curiosity can kill you. Well, unsupervised curiosity can. From time to time, I did a few ‘experiments’ that weren’t safe. On one of those days when our parents left us home alone while they went to the grocery store, I got bored.
I was about nine years old, and we had a huge box of matchbooks with different pictures of bicentennial events on each booklet. The box was in the top cabinet above the sink. I climbed onto the counter, and my little sister came into the kitchen and asked what I was doing. Her entrance into the kitchen caught me off guard. I turned and lost my balance, falling off the countertop and onto the floor.
I’m still surprised that I didn’t get hurt or suffer any bruises. I lay there, sprawled out, and for meanness, I closed my eyes and pretended to be unresponsive as she crossed the kitchen. Frantic, she shook me and kept yelling my name. After a minute or so, I opened my eyes. She was relieved, but my attention returned to getting that box of matchbooks.
I don’t know why it is, but I’ve always like the smell of a struck match. Still do. I only use matches to light candles, even today.
After climbing back onto the counter, I reached the matches and took them. I lowered myself to the floor and she asked what I had planned to do. I showed her the various historical scenes on the back of the matchbooks. I kept one booklet out for myself, and she asked me how to light them.
I tore off one of the paper-sticked matches and turned the booklet over and struck it. I blew it out over the sink and ran water over it. She wanted to see me light another one, so I did. But this time when I struck the match, the cover of the booklet came up and the flame of the match touched another match attached to all the others. Immediately the match ignited and all of the matches burst into a flaming fireball. I tossed the burning matchbook into the sink and turned on the water. Smoke was everywhere, and I was fortunate to have been at the sink when that occurred.
After extinguishing the matchbook, I wrapped it inside a wad of paper and hid it deep inside the garbage bag in the kitchen. Then I quickly climbed up and put the box of matches on the top shelve of the cabinet. We opened the door and a window to let the breeze pull the sulfur smell outside. By the time our parents returned home, the smell was gone. Another moment of good luck. I cannot imagine the spanking my father would have given me if he had discovered what I had done.
Besides being left at home alone during the summer, I was a latchkey kid after school. Both my parents worked at the time, and one day the weather became severe. The lightning struck all around our house. The rain was so heavy, I could barely see the road through the front windows. This was before cable television during the days of the towering antennae bolted to the sides of houses, and when, if you were lucky and the wind blew in the proper direction, you could find three television stations to watch. However, the weather was so bad, I was unable to watch anything.
My sister had fallen asleep on the couch. Even the worst of the rattling thunder didn’t awaken her. Without television, my mind remained focused on the storm. I periodically looked out to see if one of our parents was turning into the driveway.
In between those times of looking out, someone pounded on the back door under the carport. I looked out the front window and a white car with its headlights on was parked near the carport. I didn’t recognize the car. The knocking continued. I opened the door and looked out as the lady headed back toward her car. She heard the door open and turned.
“I think a tornado is coming,” she said. “We need to get into the ditch outside.”
The rain poured and lightning flashed around the house. She was drenched from having walked a few feet from her car to the door.
“The ditch is the safest place,” she said.
I glanced toward the living room where my sister was still sound asleep on the couch. I didn’t know the woman, so I replied, “I’m sorry, but my parents told me not to talk to strangers.”
“I understand that,” she said, “but …”
I pulled the door closed, and several minutes later, after the rain slacked, she backed out of the drive and drove away. I later learned who she was and she went to the church down the road. She apparently had known that we were home alone and it had terrified her. She truly wanted us safe.
If there had been a tornado on that day, it missed us.
Thinking about our situation when we had been left alone as kids, and years later, after I have children of my own, there’s no way I could ever have left my children unattended. Regardless of how good a child might be, no one can predict what might happen while parents are away or what kind of mischief a kid can get into.