When I was in fourth grade, I learned something that I thought would change my life. As things turned out, it didn’t but I thought that it might for a while. There was a lot to learn in fourth grade back then, and from what my older daughter Amy, a fourth grade teacher, tells me, that hasn’t changed much.
Virginia is closely studied in the fourth grade, both as it is now and as it used to be. If you’re like me, you probably remember Virginia as having three regions: Tidewater, Piedmont (that’s us) and Mountain. Now there are five: Coastal Plain (formerly and also known as Tidewater), Piedmont, Blue Ridge, Valley and Ridge, and Appalachian Plateau. This makes a great deal of sense to me, much more sense than having five kingdoms of living things.
Back in the day we had two: plant and animal. A couple of weird organisms didn’t fit either category or fit both, so you could call them what you wanted. When my girls were in high school, they scoffed at my outdated world view. They said there were five kingdoms: plant, animal, monera, protista and fungi. I think monera and protista are microscopic, but we could make them animals since they move around and eat. They also are capable of photosynthesis, but that’s just an added bonus for them. And fungi are clearly plants. They look like plants and grow like plants. You don’t see them running around the back yard barking like a real animal. So two kingdoms are enough. My extensive research into this matter has revealed that biologists now speak of three “domains”: Eukarya, Archaea and Eubacteria. Eukarya includes plants and animals. Don’t ask me how. Two kingdoms are enough for me.
Anyhow, the fact that I thought would change my life came from Virginia history. Since Virginia had the first permanent English-speaking settlement in the New World in Jamestown, the study of early Virginia history involved early colonial history. I learned enough about it to know that I would not have wanted to have been a colonial since I am not fond of starvation, disease and assorted massacres. I did learn about indentured servants, where someone would bind themselves to a master for a period of years. At the end of the time, they would be set free from their indenture. I had been looking for an idea to describe how I felt treated by my parents. They had the nerve to expect me to keep my room clean and pick up after myself. That was the extent of my responsibilities, but for some reason I felt put upon. So I began to consider myself an indentured servant.
I tried out my new idea at the dinner table one night. “I’m nothing but an indentured servant,” I announced.
“Me, too,” my brother said in a rare display of fraternal solidarity.
“Why are you an indentured servant?” my mother asked.
“Because all I do is work around here. I can hardly wait until the day I’m free.”
My parents did work very hard, and this proclamation from my mouth struck them as funny. They started laughing and couldn’t stop. I slunk off to my room where I did not clean it up.
Ron and I determined that we would have to run away to gain our freedom. I was taken by The Boxcar Children, a book about some children who lived in a box car in the woods completely free from any adult interference. I don’t recall the book mentioning how they fed or clothed themselves. They just existed in an idyllic daydream, doing what they wanted. The idea among kids we knew was that you ran away to join the circus. Since there didn’t seem to be any circuses around, we would have to settle for a boxcar, if we could find one. We had heard from some older kids that there were some train tracks ‘way back deep in the woods. If there were train tracks, there might also be a box car.
We equipped ourselves with what we considered necessary supplies. I “borrowed” the clothes pin bag to carry our stash, and managed to pilfer some matches and candles from the kitchen drawer. I also liberated a can of pork and beans, which was pretty much the limit of my culinary skill then. I took my multiblade Scout knife which my parents had bought me when I joined the Scouts. They made me promise to not cut my fingers off. I wasn’t sure what most of the blades were for, but the knife seemed like a good idea. We were ready.
Next week: The story continues with "The Box Car Boys."