Running Away from Home
1940's - 1950's
by: Russ Lancaster
"Take your suitcase with you", my mom said while trying to hold back a smile.
She had just helped me pack the little brown overnight case with a toothbrush, change of underwear and stuff. I was only about 5 years old at the time. The year was around 1946.
We lived in the Shortridge house on Oak Street and I had done something wrong. It escapes me what it must have been but the punishment had hurt my feelings. "I'm running away from home", I had told my mom.
I don't know where I had ever come up with such an idea. Television was a few years off in the future. We listened to the dramas and comedies on radio but I don't think I came up with the idea from there. Yet here I was, a little kid telling his mom he was running away from home.
My mom was a young woman, in her early twenties but wise enough to teach me a lesson. She knew she should let me do exactly as I had threatened, that I would learn a good lesson from this.
She saw me to the front door, handed me the little suitcase, kissed me on the forehead and bid me good-bye before shutting the door behind me.
I stood on the large front porch for a few minutes, then walked out to the road. I may have walked a few yards either way of the house but not so much as an entire block. It was cold and the threat of rain was in the air.
Only a few minutes passed before I got the courage to go back on the porch and knock politely on the door. My mom must have been watching me the entire time because she opened the door quickly.
"What do you want, Young Man?", she asked.
Now I was really afraid. I had only been gone a few minutes and she had forgotten my name!
"Mama, it's ME!", I sobbed.
"So it is", she replied.
She quickly wiped away my boyish tears and gave me a hug. We walked up the stairs to our second floor apartment and she helped me unpack my suitcase. She asked, "What made you change your mind?"
I answered, "I love you, Mom".
No further explanation was necessary. I had learned my lesson.
That is an experience I relive from time to time. I do it just to remind myself of how it was to be a boy so long ago and how my parents went about teaching me the lessons necessary for growing up.
I never ran away from home again.... well, almost never.
When I was a teen ager, I did it again. Twice!
These were more serious attempts but they too resulted in my coming back home.
The first of these three times was when I was in the eleventh grade. I don't remember what prompted me to run away other than I was miffed at something or other and just wanted to do it.
One cold October evening in 1957 I decided I was unhappy and needed to run away. I packed some clothes in a knapsack and sneaked out of the house with my faithful old dog, Spot.
I jumped on my 26" bicycle and headed East out of Hamlet. My destination was Carolina Beach where my grandparents lived. I figured they would take me in. I had a few dollars in my pocket from my paper route money and felt I could ride the 150 or so miles in two days. I left a note in my top drawer where my mom would find it letting her know where I had gone.
Spot began slowing down as we passed the City Lake on Highway 74. I stopped and put him in my bicycle basket. I began pedaling again and made it past the old Coca-Cola bottling plant. It was there that I had a change of heart.
The city lights were behind me and the darkness hid imaginary things from me. The cold air was numbing my fingers on the handle bars. I knew I was making a mistake, turned around and began pedaling back home to our house on Hylan Avenue.
Back then, doors were left unlocked so sneaking back into the house was easily accomplished. I got back into my bedroom from the side porch through the French doors that opened directly into my room.
I unpacked my clothes and as I was putting them back into my chest of drawers, I noticed my "runaway" note was missing.
I had been gone less than an hour and the note had been discovered.
I sheepishly went into the kitchen where my mom was busy doing whatever moms do. She had my note in front of her and wanted to know why I had done what I had done.
I can't remember what my answer was. I do remember that this time I saw no holding back of a smile nor did I get a hug or kiss. I was told that I was free to leave anytime I thought life was too unbearable. This was the correct treatment, of course, but I didn't see it that way at the time. I was hurt.
The next attempt was made right before Christmas that same year, 1957.
I had learned that riding a bicycle 150 or so miles was not a good option. This time I decided to use one of Hamlet's best means of transportation, a train.
It was near Christmas and I figured there might be at least one present hidden somewhere in the house for me. I didn't want to leave empty handed. In a hall closet I found a new wristwatch still in its case. "Mine", I thought... and it was.
I took it out of its case, put a few clothes in a knapsack and walked down to the bridge over the railroad tracks between Jefferson and Charlotte Streets on Highway 177.
I climbed down under the bridge, sat down and waited for a freight train. My old friend Donald Harris lived somewhere in Atlanta and I hoped to sneak aboard a freight train headed there. I don't know how I thought I would find him but would worry about it when I got there.
After an hour or so of waiting with no freight train heading West, I decided to walk toward Rockingham. It was night and the darkness was threatening as I made it a mile or so down the tracks to the place I describe in one of my other stories, "Napoleon and One Mile Pond".
I imagined all kind of creepy things being in the woods on both sides of me so I stayed in the middle of the tracks. It seemed hours before I found myself in the East Rockingham area and still I had not seen any Westbound freight trains.
I stopped and came to my senses. I was only a year or so from graduation and here I was about to ruin my life for some reason so insignificant I can't even remember what it was.
I turned and retraced my steps along the tracks all the way back to Hamlet emerging from the hills above the railroad tracks at the same bridge where I had begun my journey. Then, back up McPhail's Hill to the screened in side porch at our house on Hylan Avenue.
But this time there was a surprise waiting for me. The doors were locked! I could get in the screened in porch but all outside doors had been locked.
All was not lost. There was a hammock on the porch where I often slept in the summer. Now it was winter and cold. I lay down in the hammock and pulled my jacket even closer. I thought I would have to sleep out there that night so as not to wake anyone. It was well after midnight when I had returned home.
Around 20 minutes or so later, a door to the porch opened and my mom invited me inside. I followed her into the kitchen. To my surprise, my dad was sitting there too. He would normally have been in bed but was worried about where I was. I had left no tell tale note this time.
He asked me where I had been and I told the truth. But the truth was not good enough this time.
"Yeah", he said sarcastically. "You expect me to believe you walked to Rockingham and back.... at NIGHT!"
I could not convince him so I soon let it go. My feelings were now hurt twice as much. His not believing me really hurt.
The next morning I managed to sneak my "Christmas present" watch back into its case in the hall closet and would act totally surprised when I opened the gift a week or so later.
I hope I haven't bored you too much with this very personal tale but wanted to write it down before I forget it. You are the first to hear of these happenings. I never told my brothers or my sister about these things. My parents never brought it up again and they have now passed along from this Earth.
I remember those times I ran away and how it accomplished absolutely nothing. I finally moved away from Hamlet in the Spring of 1988 and remain in Jacksonville all these years later.
But, the last time I left Hamlet, it was because I had to to keep my job with CSX and I didn't "run away".
This story is not a pleasurable memory by any means but it is one more way of my saying, "I remember Hamlet"
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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