It’s 1967 and it was the year I put my Guardian Angels to the test for protection.
My sister Bambi and I were latch key kids without keys. We never locked our 3 story, Victorian home in Atlantic Highlands, N.J. Every school day, my mom would gather up the 2 youngest of my siblings and take them to daycare on her way to work as a nurse at Monmouth County Hospital. My older sisters, Shelly and Mindi, left to catch the high school bus a few blocks away by 7:15am. So, that left Bambi and me the last ones at home to get ready and out the door in time to walk to school. (Rain, snow, sleet or hail, we walked about at least a mile!) I was in 6th grade and Bambi was in 4th.
Even though I really did love the home I grew up in, it still gave me the creeps. It wasn’t run down or anything, and we left for school in broad daylight but still, as little girls what we felt, when we were home alone, was something like this:
One day I came home from school (Bambi was at her friend, Beth’s house) and I heard someone upstairs. I was in the kitchen at the back of the house and I called up the back stairway to the 2nd floor. “HI-ii! Who’s home?!” No fear, just curious…Lot’s of times Shelly and Mindi got home from high school before I did.
Silence for a moment, then I heard foot steps running down the hallway towards the front stairway. I had a second to think “that’s strange” before the alarm sounded in my head. Something wasn’t right. I quickly walked through the Sun Room into the Dining room where I could see the front stairway that dropped down in front of the front door. At the same time I heard someone barreling down the stairs at a clip! I saw someone dash out the front door, leap off the porch steps like a gymnast in the circus and ran off down the street!
He was a blur… Just from his speed, you could tell he was a young man and I had no idea who he was. I told my sisters about him when they got home and they didn’t seem to know either. Life was strange like that during that time, I remember getting phone calls where no one would answer, or hang up when you said “hello?”.
My grammar school had a scare when someone, (a man dressed in woman’s clothing) was caught hanging out in the girls bathroom! That was way before we had school security in place. And to top it off, that was the year that a young girl about my age was abducted from just outside the corner store near the Catholic church. She walked to the store from her home a few doors down to buy candy and when she left, someone said they saw her get into a car and they drove away! Her poor mother was plagued for years with anonymous phone calls telling her where to look for her missing daughter. Now you tell me, which one of those calls would you ignore? She was never found, not a trace.
Now, I was walking home from girl scouts one late afternoon in October, it was getting dark around 5pm. I had to climb Mount Avenue to get to my street, Prospect Circle at the top. Mount Avenue is one of those hills that you can’t stand upright on, or you will fall backward! You stand at an angle like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
…and that’s how you walked up it, too! If your arms were swinging at your side, you would pretty much hit the sidewalk with your hands in front! And for that same reason cars going up the hill needed to get some speed to make it all the way up to the top. So, I am walking home around dinner time and I hear a car approach me going up the hill, but slowly. Very slowly…
Again, I got the feeling that something was wrong here. We were raised Catholic and I would pray to the Blessed Mother Mary to help me out when I was afraid, or had something on my mind. I think She felt my fear because I heard a voice in my head that said, with some urgency, “Go straight to the next house and walk in!” By this time the car was going as slow as I was walking, which was a bit faster now. I didn’t even look around, I just moved as quickly as I could to the next house and walked up to the porch and up the stairs to the front door. I remember thinking how uncomfortable I was just going into someone’s house I didn’t know. And what if the door was locked? My heart was in my throat, but I thought the alternative would be worse. So, I put my hand on the door knob and….
……. and the car took off!
I waited on the porch for a few minutes to get my composure back… I heard people inside talking, possibly around the dinner table. I decided to walk the remaining 3 blocks home by taking cover in the neighbors yards. I figured everyone was eating dinner at this time and if someone did see me hiding out, sneaking around the bushes, I’d say I was looking for my dog. It wasn’t a fool proof plan, but I went with it. I was a tom boy, so I was always in pants and getting dirty didn’t bother me. I went from yard to yard in the way I described looking out for any slow moving vehicles. I made it up Mount Avenue and to Prospect Circle by cutting through the oldest Victorian home in the whole town. This home was land marked to be the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society and Museum. But not for another 30 years, right now it was a just a little run down version of this…
It was occupied by a man named Wimpy, just like the Popeye character. No kidding! When he first introduced himself, I didn’t even bat an eyelash. He could be “Wimpy” if he wanted to. They called me Bonnie Bear at home, so I figured, let it be.
I cut through Wimpy’s yard on my way to my house and wasn’t worried a bit about him finding me. He would have understood my dilemma. But, I didn’t see him. I did have to pass by my new neighbors house on the other side of the street from ours, though. They just moved in a week ago. I had just crossed over to my yard when I heard a child’s voice speaking to me.
I turned around, “Hello?”
He was standing on the other side of the road and he was about 3 years old and cute as a button. He said, “Hello, My name is Kenny Laytum and I live aqwat duh tweet!”
“What?” I just had to hear that again from this little man!
He repeated “Hello, my name is Kenny Laytum and I live aqwat duh tweet!”
I really didn’t get it at first, now it was my turn to repeat. “Your name is Kenny Laytum and you live aqwat duh tweet?”
He nodded (Oh, I got it, he lives across the street!) and I said, “Nice to meet you Kenny, does your mom know you’re outside by yourself? Is she home?” (Now who’s the guardian angel!?)
He nodded, and at that point I saw her at the door about to collect him. I introduced myself quickly and made my departure. I was famished, and dinner wasn’t going to wait with all the hungry mouths my mom had to feed! Because there were so many of us, we had a picnic table as our kitchen table. If I didn’t get in there soon, I would be doomed with no dinner.
At dinner I related my adventure with “the car” to my family. Mom said “Well Bear, You did the right thing. You should have gone in all the way to that house or perhaps you could have knocked when the car left and you could have asked to call home? But you are safe at home now, and that is all that matters.”
Everyone agreed. My mom and me made a decision right then and there that I would get a ride home from girl scouts from now on. And I did.
As for the Blessed Mother, I know that She was watching over me and that the voice in my head was from Her.
Flash to present time……
My son Simon is 18 years old, and today he said to me, “Mom, you know that Professor at the college, Jim? You have him in your yoga class sometimes?”
“Yeah, sure.” I said, “What about him?”
“Well, he went out of his way to help me with something school related and I thought that was really nice of him. I think I may have barely met him once. I have to say, I think he is the nicest person I have never met!”
Looking back on this story in my life, I would have to say the same thing about the Blessed Mother!
P.S. …and even after all that, we still didn’t lock our door… and to this day, I don’t either.