A call came in over the police radio the other day; a car was parked in a grocery store lot. There had been no accident, no theft, no vandalism, but there were two kids — somewhere between seven and nine years old — sitting in the back seat unattended.
I don’t know whether this qualifies as a crime, but the responding officer said he’d check it out. I didn’t learn if a parent was later located inside the grocery and chastised mightily or whether the unattended kids were simply whisked away by Protective Services and placed in foster care with a family that secretly raises rabid pit bulls for an underground dog fighting operation.
Point is, we’re living in a world in which it’s unsafe to leave kids sitting alone in a car. If things had been like this when I was a child, I would never have left the house. My parents simply would have left me home.
It sometimes seems I spent half my childhood crowded into the back seat of a Ford Country Squire station wagon with my two brothers, two sisters and various dogs of indeterminate genus. The dogs and my brothers were usually experiencing various levels of gastronomical distress, if my olfactory memory is at all accurate.
We sat in that car while my folks did the weekly grocery shopping, while mom had her hair done, while dad grabbed a quick beer at the Plaza Bar. But it’s the trips to the grocery that really stand out. For one thing, the waits were longer. For another, many times we were out there after dark, an adventure at age nine.
It usually went like this: My folks would park near a light so my youngest brother Bobby wouldn’t freak out and start seeing the Wolfman lurking behind every parked Chevy. We’d get the usual admonition about not killing each other for the next 35 minutes; get the usual promise of a treat if nobody was crying, screaming or badly bruised by the time mom and dad returned to the car. And then poof, my parents would be off, locking the car doors behind them “for safety.”
Once they disappeared into the store, we kids set about the business of establishing the temporary hierarchy. As eldest child, I was undisputed ruler of everything that took place in the back two rows of seats. My primary job was to punch Bobby in the arm if he started crying about the proximity of the Wolfman. It was a responsibility I took seriously. The pain helped focus his attention away from the monsters on the outside of the car and instead on the more immediate threat sitting beside him.
Next in line was my sister Carol, who occasionally challenged my authority through the diabolical use of earsplitting whines and threats to rat me out to our parents when they returned. Further down the totem pole was my brother William who learned early on in life to keep a low profile. He spent all his “car time” reading Spiderman comics while doing his best to distance himself from the tempest raging around him.
Still further down the line was my sister Julie, who generally backed whatever coup attempt Carol had going by adding her strident bellows to the inharmonious din. Finally there was Bobby, who vacillated between crying for my parents and shrieking about imminent werewolf attacks.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized those car doors were locked to keep us in, not to keep kidnappers out. Any kidnapper approaching the cacophony that was that parked Country Squire would almost certainly have had second thoughts about going through with it.
The only cops called to the scene were those responding to noise complaints.
Mike Taylor’s recent book, “Looking at the Pint Half Full,” is available in both paperback and eBook versions at mtrealitycheck.blogspot.com or on amazon.com.