When I was ten or eleven years old, I stayed alone with my aunt and uncle in West Hartford, CT. This vacation lasted a week or two. They weren’t used to a child on hand for days at a time so I had many days on my own. I also went to work with them at the company they owned, a large photo developing plant.
For those weeks I was restless, and a wanderer, so my aunt kept me safe and out of her hair by tasking me to use a blank piece of paper to try and punch the employees’ timeclock exactly every ten minutes. I had to report to her on the hour with the evidence, then hurry back to the clock. It didn’t keep me from quick-duck exploring the plant and grounds, but it did prevent me from wandering off.
One time, driving home through Hartford, my uncle and I saw a real UFO. It looked like a dumpster-sized box with a small light flashing on top of it. It traveled slowly and I was excited to see it and report its details to uncle, his driver’s side view obstructed. The next morning we were having breakfast and the radio said a UFO was spotted over the city!
West Hartford is a very nice suburb and Glenwood Road was just a starting point for me. I’m sure aunt and uncle would have been fine with me reading the 1974 Guinness Book Of World Records (which I did devour, btw) but I got to walking–a lot. Thinking back, I put myself in danger, and no one knew about it.
I would simply start walking, one street to another. Glenwood to Mountain Road, which was a busy street with cars galore. Over a mile down Mountain I took a right to discover Westmoor Park. From there I walked to Coolidge Road and beyond. I was miles from home base and gone for hours.
I remember thinking, as long as I remember the street names I was juncturing, I could trace back. I didn’t think of the whole path; that would have been confusing. And if I got confused, I would have been lost. It was just, “This street will lead to that street which will lead to that street, which takes me to Mountain Road and home is off that.”
If my family knew what I was up to, they would have been concerned. Unfortunately my mom was in a Massachusetts hospital with a 50/50 chance of recovery, with a lower intestine disease. She was in a bent bed with tubes in her, and barely able to speak. My father was with her every night, but they felt it would be too much for me to be home at this time. Mom’s sister stepped up and took me in.
They brought me to the circus. Took me to New England Whalers games. Introduced me to Prestige Park and space ships in the 7PM sky. They cared for me and took my mind off mom.
What if, while on one of my long neighborhood walks, I’d lost control of my precious system and forgot the track back to my aunt’s house? I’m sure I would have been in tears. If a kindly set of parents found me on their streets, they’d ask: “Where’s your mother?”
In the hospital.
“Where is your home?”
Wakefield, Massachusetts. I’m staying with my aunt and uncle.
“Do they know where you are?”
“Where do they live?”
The chances of someone knowing Glenwood Road would have been next to nil. They would have asked my aunt’s last name and I don’t think at that moment in my life I could have come up with it. Of course they would have got me settled and safe that afternoon, but oh what a lost boy I would have been. Never mind if an evil adult had come my way.
In all, I took a total of maybe three daily walks to that faraway neighborhood. Those were big, sunny days and adventures for me. I was far from where I was living, and even farther from home. Like a UFO over an Earth city.
What is wandering? Wandering is a free enterprise, gilded by no one’s permission and enhanced by secrecy. It causes a man to recall an obscure day of streets in 1976, beyond so many other days in his life. Wandering is a child’s risk, which is a horrible concept on paper but wholesome on his or her own terms. It’s being scared, with excitement just eclipsing the fear and the unknown. For me, most of all, wandering was a son’s mobility, when mom was stuck, far away.