The Observer lingered a bit last week over the story of the 11-year-old from Bryant who nicked $10,000 from her grandma’s sock drawer, hitchhiked to Little Rock in the dead of night, then hired a taxicab to take her to Jacksonville, Fla., apparently on a mission to see a boy she’d met on vacation a few years prior. The cabbie, clearly disregarding the superior Redneck Riviera Express route through Lake Village, made it all the way to Atlanta before the police, her parents and the cab company were able to track her down. All’s well that ends well, though The Observer would bet a dollar to a dead goldfish that there was some ungentle language spoken on the drive back to home base with her parents.
While many folks took to social media to tsk-tsk the young lady’s behavior, The Observer can’t say much. While we never had the funds — filched or otherwise — to get up to interstate shenanigans during our formative years, we did do some ignert stuff as a kid. Once, at 7, tinkering in Pa’s cluttered shop, we decided to see what would happen if we wired up an old car antenna to an old lamp cord and plugged it in. The Lad Observer was hoping for a sort of lightsaber effect, but all we managed to do was blow a fuse and render the outlet a blackened hulk that never worked again. On another occasion, at 9, The Observer’s older brother asked Yours Truly to check how much gas was left in the tank of his Briggs-and-Stratton-powered go-kart. The Observer couldn’t see the bottom of the tank, so we decided to see what we could see by the light of a cigarette lighter we’d lifted from the dashboard of Pa’s truck. Fried hair and a three-alarm faceburn ensued, with the Young Pyro being forced to go to school for weeks sans eyebrows and with a significantly broadened forehead.
How our dear old Ma and Pa survived seeing their middle child to adulthood, we’ll never know. Like the man said: Mama tried. But we got away with quite a lot while she had her back turned for one … solitary … second. Full confession: On yet other questionable stops between birth and voting age, The Observer paddled out into a green stockpond in a plastic kiddie pool bought at Magic Mart (towing a washtub as a thankfully unneeded lifeboat); fended off the neighbor’s bone-vicious dog with an arm cast we’d earned in another escapade; swallowed an Alka-Seltzer tablet on a dare, then retched up bitter foam; rode my banana-seat bike out in front of a propane truck, forcing the driver to lock the brakes, climb down from the cab, and swear at me with hot tears standing in his eyes; stabbed a lineman’s spike into one ankle while trying to climb a pine tree in the front yard; touched a live and wholly unrestrained copperhead with a bare finger, and rode a sheet of rusty barn tin down a snowy, 45-degree, tree-covered slope, winding up in four feet of icy cold water and with a two-inch wound that healed to a pale and puckered scar we’ll carry to the grave. We never struck out for Florida in a taxi, but it’s only because it never crossed our devious little mind. It was likely the same for you, Dear Reader, if you’ll think back.
This is what you learn as a parent: Watch your kid like an Alcatraz guard, because they’re like drunk, suicidal elves until they’re about 12 or so, at which point most of them turn into antisocial cave bears who often wish, aloud, that they’d been grown in a lab so they didn’t have to suffer the indignity of having parents.
Bar none, the hardest part of being somebody’s Old Man has been allowing Junior to make his mistakes. Childhood, The Observer has to say to the graying chump in the mirror on almost a weekly basis, is the time for mistakes, some of them more dangerous and stupid than others. Screwing up — even screwing up royally — is what kids are supposed to do.
Still, The Observer should probably go ahead and take the 10 grand out of our sock drawer and put it behind the detergent bottle in the laundry room, where he’ll never find it. Better safe than sorry.