During one of those trips down memory lane we enjoy with the boys now that they’re grown, found us recalling an episode in Parenting of which I am not particularly proud. Fact is, the story – told and retold numerous times over – has provided us a few good laughs over the years.
It was Spring, and although I forget the year, it had to be around 1996. Spring, when the boys were young, brought us little league baseball at the Liberty Bell fields in the Far Northeast section of Philadelphia.
As was my fate this evening, I was coaching a team on which my eldest son was playing. Yet I had additional company in the form of our precocious son, Brian James; all of six years old and quite popular with those in his first-grade class at St. Martha’s Roman Catholic School on Academy Road.
Having Brian around always seemed to add an unexpected twist to the day’s activities.
It was not unusual for me to have an extra child around since we had three boys to drive herd on divided by two parental units. How I ended up with the family’s mischievous character as a “plus one” (Mistake #1) escapes my memory. With the distractions of coaching however, it’s not hard to figure out the direction in which this story is heading.
At some point during my harried coaching activities, I may – or may not – have granted permission for Mr. Mischievous to set off for the playground, bored as he most certainly was with watching his older brother playing baseball. This was not a huge problem – normally – since the playground was located within easy viewing distance (Mistake #2).
Needless to say, one’s focus and attention to detail, like a spare non-playing child cavorting on a pleasant Spring evening, tends to suffer under such conditions.
Now, none of this was humorous in the moment. We have been able to laugh only in hindsight, and only because it obviously turned out well and the climax of the event was … well, priceless. You see, Brian was a character then … truly an unpredictable element in both the family and school environments, which made him very popular at school though somewhat less so within the realm of Parenting. He was all free spirit and little in the way of cautious or with any genuine concern for the roles and responsibility of being a Parent.
Shocker, I know …
Needless to say, when it came time to pack away the bats, balls, and gloves; Brian is nowhere to be found. I sent my eldest son, Mike, the baseball player to the playground to find our little pride and joy. “He’s not there.”, Mike announced when he returned.
A distracted “What?” was all I said … until the consequences of this all too predictable development hit me.
Panic was the first emotion. Quickly followed by Dread … dreading, that is, the phone call home to Mama Bear. (Trust me … You NEVER want to have to make that call!) Let’s just say the conversation was mostly one-sided and not suitable for audiences with tiny ears.
After placing a reluctant call to Philadelphia’s finest, I got our first and only lead … an older girl who saw our pint-sized MIA accompanying a trio of like-sized females towards a nearby neighborhood. And I set out on a widening arc of street searches by car. Michael watching one side as I scanned the other.
These neighborhoods – for those not familiar with the streets of Northeast Philly – were a tightly packed collection of row homes and duplex apartments for block after block after block.
Trying to maintain calm in my panicked state of mind, I was certain our wayward wanderer was somewhere in the area. Then I saw the weirdest, most welcoming sight a parent in such dire circumstances would want to see.
As we rounded a street corner I spied a familiar silhouette!
Seriously … It was just a silhouette! Think Alfred Hitchcock‘s famous back-lit outline that graced the telly at the beginning of each episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Just a shadow, but an amazingly well-lit shadow in a row home’s front window. The silhouette so remarkably sharp and clear, that he was instantly recognizable.
The scene was so odd that at first it didn’t quite click. I turned to Michael and asked him, “Doesn’t that look like Brian?!?”
What really floored me was that the silhouette was obviously singing, maybe performing would be the better term, and with a hand-held microphone at that!
That has to be him, I thought. Who else could it be?!?
As I knocked on the door of the house to retrieve my wandering troubadour, I found him singing in front of a small female audience, spot-lighted via a strategically aimed lamp, held by one of his female accomplices, that provided the super sharp silhouette. He was singing some popular song from the day to a rather fascinated group of fans.
It took a few seconds to shake off my fascination, even admiration for such a bold performance before Parent Mode kicked in and the fire and brimstone came raining down. (OK … Admittedly, I was never very good at that. Mama Bear on the other hand …)
As I dragged the thoroughly embarrassed, admonished, and totally puzzled crooner from the house, and I ask him what he was thinking; how could he do that to me; why would he simply wander off without telling anyone???
His answer was simple, “Dad, I really like that little red-headed girl!”
It’s always a little red-headed girl …