He did not consider himself old despite the fact that he walked the five-mile run instead of racing through it, despite the gray hair and achy bones on rainy days. Not until the day his father died and he realized he was the top generation. He had a duty to tell the story.
The night was clear, the stars sparkled within touching distance. Horace waited in front of his 30 year old comfortable home. Spaceship511 came in silently, green lights blinking and slowed down as Horace held out two sheets of computer typed paper. With a swoosh Spaceship511 disappeared and “Coming of Age” now joins the legends of the Kindly Kross-roads.
COMING OF AGE
By Horace Ryder
June 1958, Indianapolis, Indiana. It was stacked up to be a good summer. One year under my belt at Purdue, mostly because Mom wouldn’t have it any other way.
Quite a few of my high school class were still around for a few months anyway. We had all been in kindergarten together and we planned a good interlude of hanging out, checking on the girls and passing time until we would be heading for the military. My best friend Chuck kept talking about driving to California and spending the summer on the beach but I was a little unsure about that.
My dad knew some people over at the Indiana State Police and he got me a summer job with them. They told me it would be rough work, which turned out to mean being outdoors, holding the measuring lines for the surveyors. I had fallen into cream.
My dad was of the old school, the real old school, like his father and grandfather and probably back to the cavemen. This meant that whatever he said was the rule. Even though he had a great reputation as a trial lawyer, there wasn’t much justice around our house. Clean your plates, telephone calls limited to five minutes, be in the house by ten and in bed by eleven.
Being the easy going type, I didn’t let it give me too much grief, just worked around his obstacles mostly by keeping my mouth shut.
Dad didn’t throw any dollar bills my way to help with tuition and books. He had worked his way through school and considered it my right to do the same. My older brother had skipped out and joined the army, and my sister left for a marriage license when she was 17 but I stayed around because of Mom and her longing for one of her children to get that college certificate.
The week in June that I’m talking about, summer thunderstorms had moved into the area. My crew stayed in the office, catching up on paperwork. This meant they had me cleaning the equipment, filing the paperwork, going out in the rain for donuts, keeping me busy while they sat around and shot the bull. It was all part of the internship. By this time I found I liked the surveying and casually considered turning my college credits toward a degree someplace in engineering.
My room was at the back of the house and I could read long past that eleven o’clock curfew. However, this night the sound of the steady falling rain put me to sleep early.
It was two o’clock in the morning when the sound of the front doorbell woke up everyone in the house. Something had happened. My dad got to the door first, pulled it open and I could hear Chuck as I came closer.
My father bellowed in his best courtroom manner, “What are you doing here in the middle of the night.”
It was a tired voice that answered: “I need to see Horry. My car broke down and I want to borrow his.”
There was no hesitation in my father’s reply, “You can’t have his car. He’s in bed and he’s going to stay there.”
By that time I had reached the door. “Chuck, what’s the matter? Come in out of the rain.”
My father moved between us. He had a lot of weight on him and he blocked my going further. I shoved at him, something I never would have dared to do without the anger building up in me. “Chuck,” I shouted around him, “I’ll get the keys and be there in a minute.”
“No you won’t young man. You are going back to bed and stay there.”
“Dad, that is my car and it may be an old junker but I paid for it and I can do whatever I want to with it.”
“You live in my house and you go by my rules. You are not leaving here.”
By that time my mother had arrived in her old blue checked bathrobe and tears on her face. “Leave him alone, dear. You know that is his car to do with as he wants to.”
“He can do what he wants to when he pays the bills.”
I headed back up the stairs to my room on a run. Dad locked the door and herded Mom back toward their bedroom.
I moved as fast as I have ever moved, I didn’t want to leave Chuck standing in the rain and I couldn’t believe my father had acted so rude. He might be a big shot down around the court house but that didn’t give him any right to be so impolite.
I picked up my old plastic raincoat, slipped on loafers and grabbed the keys from my pants pockets. Despite my speed I didn’t make it. My father was standing in front of the closed door with no intention of moving.
“I’m going out, Dad.”
“If you go out, don’t come back.”
Mom returned. “Ned, come to bed and we’ll talk about this in the morning.”
“Only when this young man has returned to bed.”
She turned to me. “Horace, please do as he says.”
My arm went around her shoulders for the quickest of hugs, trying to give her reassurance. “I can’t, Mom. Don’t worry, I’ll be back.”
Mom was really bawling by now. Dad gave in. “I will move to let you out because I love your mother. But the door will be locked when you leave.”
My folks were not the demonstrative type, not even holding hands or kissing, except for the little peck when he left for the office in the morning. His declaration of love for Mom stopped me for a footstep since this wasn’t his style. But I kept going. I opened that front door and rushed out in the pouring rain, wearing my pajamas, loafers and the old plastic raincoat thrown around me. I hollered for Chuck, kept calling for him. I walked the surrounding blocks for probably three hours, hunting for Chuck, not finding him, not expecting to find him after the first ten minutes. The rain turned from a downpour to a drizzle. I walked familiar neighborhood blocks sorting out my relationships in my father’s house. By the time dawn had started to show up on the horizon I had grown from a carefree teenager to a young man with a mission. I would not ever be in a position again to be dictated to.
When I finally returned to my home, I tried the front door. It was locked. I went around the path to the back. That door stood slightly ajar, waiting. I never asked who unlocked it. It could have been either Mom or Dad but it didn’t matter.
I continued to live at home for the summer until returning to school in the fall. It was all politeness between my father and me. “Good morning, sir.” “Good morning to you. Work hard today.” “Yes sir, I will.”
That I did, more so than the previous beginning days. I recognized an opportunity to get a head start on highway engineering and I took every opportunity offered to me.
Did my father and I ever become friends? Yes, but it was not until after I married, had two children of my own, and was established in my architectural business.
Dad came in the office one day and handed me a book, “Here’s one you might like son.” Our mutual joy in reading brought us back together and by the time he died we had a sincere friendship and respect for each other.
The day after the rain Chuck apologized – he had been drinking underage beer and didn’t want to get caught driving. We have been friends for over fifty years now and can laugh over the stupidity of teenagers.
When my son reached his deciding years, I wondered if I would have the courage to forbid him to go out in a storm in a car that blew blue smoke when it clunkered enough to run. But dad and I never discussed that rainy night. Maybe I should have thanked him for pushing me out of kidhood but we let it go at that.