It was mid-afternoon and Johnny’s 27-year-old mother, Madge, was growing weary. She’d helped her six-year-old onto the school bus at 7 a.m., then spent the rest of the day keeping a watchful eye on her mischievous four-year-old, Johnny, while cleaning her suburban Cape Cod home. As if that weren’t enough to make anyone tired, her third child was due in two short weeks.
Johnny was playing quietly in the sandbox in the backyard, inwardly fuming because his big sister, Cleo, wasn’t home from school yet. How come SHE gets to got to school and I don’t? he wondered for the umteenth time that day. Then he was struck with a great idea: It would be so much fun if he could go to grandma’s house! It was a warm September day, and ice cream would taste really good, and grandma always gave him ice cream.
Smirking at his own brilliance, he strode confidently into the house, to where his mother was relaxing in her oversized brown recliner. Her eyes were closed, but she usually woke up really fast whenever he wanted her to.
“Mommy, Mommy! Please let’s go to grandma’s house,” he pleaded in his most polite voice.
Her eyes didn’t open, so he repeated his urgent request, but to no avail. He reached out and grabbed her arm, figuring that this drastic wake-up measure should do the trick.
But his poor overwrought mother’s only response was an undignified sleepy snort.
Realizing that he wasn’t going to achieve his desired goal with his mother fast asleep, he once again conceived a dazzling notion. He would just walk to grandma’s house! He knew right were it was, and could picture its green shingles, comfortable front porch, and the old white freezer in her basement that contained an endless supply of frozen treats.
He didn’t want to make his mother cross, so he told her exactly where he was going. It wasn’t his fault, he reasoned, if she was sleeping too deeply to hear him say, “Mommy, I’m going to grandma’s now. I’ll be home in a little while.” And with that being said, Johnny quietly slipped out the front door.
* * * * *
Madge awoke with a start when the screen door slammed an hour after Johnny’s stealthy departure.
“Mommy, I’m home from school,” called Cleo.
Madge stood up groggily, and wondered how long she’d been asleep. “That’s nice, Cleo,” she replied absentmindedly, preoccupied with pinpointing her son’s whereabouts.
Cleo said something else, but Madge didn’t hear one word. Johnny was nowhere in sight, which caused her to become immediately concerned. “Did you happen to notice where your brother was?” she asked Cleo as her eyes continued to scour her surroundings.
“No, Mommy. I wondered how come he wasn’t waiting at the door for me to come in like he always does.”
With a sick feeling in back of her throat, Madge moved swiftly throughout the house, looking for her lively little son in all of his clever hiding places. She expanded her search to the backyard, calling his name until she began to grow hoarse.
Cleo stood in the kitchen, watching her frantic mother through the screen door. She felt frightened and wanted to help, but didn’t know what to do, so she started to cry.
After realizing that Johnny wasn’t anywhere on the property, Madge quickly made her way to the telephone on the wall in the kitchen, several inches above where the highly-distraught Cleo was sobbing miserably.
She grabbed her daughter’s shaking shoulders and hugged her tightly. Madge said softly, “You know how Johnny is, Cleo. I’m sure he’s just playing a game. You don’t need to cry.” She stroked her daughter’s hair lovingly as she bit back her own powerful urge to sob.
Madge escorted her daughter to her room, and calmly suggested she use her 64-crayon set to make her a beautiful, colorful picture to hang on the sparkling white refrigerator.
Then she dashed back to the phone and started dialing.
* * * * *
Johnny trudged happily along the sidewalk, thinking about things he had heard his Daddy say when he thought there were no youngsters within earshot.
“Madge, we have to move. I wish we never bought this place. Yeah, the house is great, but this street is as busy as a highway. If you get hit by a truck when you’re a little kid like I did, you can’t help but worry about these things.”
This news had struck fear in Johnny’s heart. To picture a truck running over his father was truly a shocking vision for a four-year-old to digest. Even though there were lots of cars going really fast next to where he walked, he would be extra careful to make sure that no trucks would run HIM down.
Surprisingly, Johnny’s young mind correctly remembered the route to his beloved grandmother’s house. The problem he faced was that her residence was located approximately 10 miles away from where he lived, a distance which seemed relatively brief to a four-year-old when traveling by car.
After managing to cross various city streets, avenues, and boulevards, Johnny noticed that his legs were starting to ache. But he pressed forward, certain that if he just kept traveling along the busy street he was on, he would soon have ice cream as his reward.
He knew he was adorably cute because he often heard people talking about the “dim poles” in his chubby cheeks. But his optimistic thoughts were interrupted as he realized that the denim overalls he wore had begun to chafe against his upper legs. This discomfort was coupled with a sudden sense of urgency to visit the potty.
Knowing that grandma would be very angry if he showed up on her doorstep with soaked pants, Johnny figured he had better find a bathroom right away. He looked around to see if there was a store or restaurant nearby, but all he saw were houses. A short distance down the street, he spotted a red-haired woman about his mommy’s age watering her garden.
He sauntered up to the woman, and stood behind her until she turned around and noticed him.
“Wow, where did you come from?” she asked with a smile.
“The stork,” Johnny explained. “Lady, do you have a potty I can use?” He crossed his legs, and squirmed as he added, “Could you take me there right away?”
Observing this cute little man’s speech patterns and his childish mannerisms made her bite down hard to avoid laughing out loud. “Why certainly you can use the potty. It’s this way.” She turned and led him into the house.
As they walked up the steps and along her wraparound front porch, Johnny explained, “I know I’m not allowed to talk to strangers, but you don’t look strange to me, so I know my mommy and daddy won’t mind.”
After Johnny exited the bathroom, he thanked his hostess and said, “I need to leave now so I can go to my grandma’s house.”
Celina Randolph wasn’t exactly sure what to do. This well-mannered child looked awfully young to be randomly trekking down the busy street alone, so she decided to learn more about him and his mission.
“Where does your grandma live?” she inquired as nonchalantly as possible.
“I’m not sure, but I know keep walking on this street I’ll find it,” he answered brightly. “She’ll give me ice cream. That’s why I’m going to her house.”
“That sounds wonderful! I love ice cream too. Would you like to come into the kitchen and have some before you leave?” Celina was tempting him in an effort to stall his departure.
“Gee, sure I would!” exclaimed Johnny excitedly. “Don’t worry, my grandma won’t mind if I eat ice cream twice because I won’t tell her you gave me some too. I’m very smart that way.” He was indeed feeling proud of himself at that moment because he wouldn’t need to settle for just one meager serving of ice cream.
Johnny’s gaze was locked on the scooper as Celina dug out a heaping serving of chocolate ice cream. Certain that she possessed his undivided attention, she asked the all-important question.
“Does your mommy know where you are?”
Johnny dived right into the answer he’d been practicing to use on his grandmother. “Oh yes, my mommy knows where I am. I told her while she was sleeping before I left.” Staring at the tower of ice cream Celina was offering him, he excitedly asked, “Is all of that for me?”
“Yes it is.” Celine continued, “But before I can give you this much ice cream, I need to know who you are. My name is Celine.”
Johnny grinned. “My name is Johnny McKenzie. Do you have any cones?”
Celine shook her head. “Sorry, no cones. But if you’re still hungry after all that ice cream I can make a sandwich for you.” As she placed the bowl of brown cream in front of him, Celine asked, “Johnny, do you know your address?”
He scowled. “Naw, my big sister wears a dress. I wear pants.” By now, Johnny’s mouth was stuffed with the creamy substance, and he was not really in the mood for any more silly questions.
Celine tried again. “Johnny, do you know where your house is? You know, the one where you live?”
With chocolate ice cream dripping from the corners of his mouth, Johnny told her that although he wasn’t sure exactly, “I know I live on a street has a two and a six in its name.”
While he continued to eat his way through the melting heap, Celina excused herself. She strode into the living room, grabbed the phone book, and soon located the number she sought.
* * * * * *
Jack and Madge McKenzie were both nearly out their minds with fear of what might have happened to their little boy. Jack had immediately departed from his busy shipping office the minute he received Madge’s frantic call two hours ago.
“I can’t believe he’d just run off like this,” Jack lamented. “Somebody must have grabbed him.”
“Oh Jack, don’t say that!” Madge snapped. “The police will find him. Because if they don’t…” Before she could finish her dismal sentence, the phone’s sharp peal pierced their thoughts.
“Hello!” Madge barked into the phone.
“Mrs. McKenzie?” asked an unfamiliar female voice.
“Do you have a son named Johnny?”
In that split instant, Madge wondered if the woman at the other end of the line was a kidnapper who was about to demand a ransom for the safe return of Johnny. Trying to keep calm, Madge answered, “Yes, do you know where he is?” Then she closed her eyes, praying that the answer would be a good one.
“Johnny is safe. He stopped here to use the bathroom a few minutes ago, and said he’s on his way to his grandmother’s house.”
Madge didn’t know whether to laugh at her son’s high-spiritedness or cry with relief at knowing he was safe.
* * * * *
As it turned out, Johnny had traveled from the 1900 block of 26th Street to the 900 block of 38th Street — a distance of about one and a half miles.
By the time his misty-eyed parents arrived at Celine’s house to pick him up, Johnny was feeling pretty grand. The urgency he felt previously to get to his grandmother’s house for a cold treat had been quelled due to the fact that his belly was quite full of wonderful chocolate ice cream.
He also had a penchant for the dramatic, so he enjoyed reveling in the onslaught of attention his little trip had earned.
Madge and Jack, who had been angry with their son’s antics initially, had evolved to the point where their happiness at seeing him safe trumped the frustration they felt at their son’s brazen departure.
“Oh Johnny, I’m glad you’re okay,” his mommy whispered in his ear as she embraced him tightly.
After the reunion had calmed down, Jack asked the question that had been tugging at the back of his mind since he learned how far his son had ventured away from home. “Johnny, how did you manage to get across so many busy streets without getting hit by a car?”
“Oh Daddy,” Johnny chided. “That was easy. No matter where I decided to cross the street the cars all stopped for me right away. Some of their tires made a loud noise too!”