But I’m Only A Child!

But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. KJV  Bible. Jeremiah 1:7

When I was almost 9 years old I used to go swimming with Black kids downtown at our main YMCA, I always had a good time and enjoyed the ride back home, that is until the night they forgot me at the pool’s dressing room and I had to walk 27 city blocks in the dark. The pool was closed and there was no-one top report my mishap to, I had no money for bus, taxi or telephone to call home, I did know the direction the YMCA took to get here so I’d just have to back track. I knew that I was near downtown fifth and Madison and my final destination would be twenty-seventh and Olive in the heart of Seattle’s Central area, I walked over left to Madison St. and started up the first of many steep hills, pushed one of the light change buttons which went berserk, scaring me as all four corner flashed erratically in concert with the central overhead traffic lights.  I quickly looked both ways as I had been trained, then darted across the street fleeing for my life, trying to be brave and focus on the momentous task at hand. What I was trying not to concern myself about were the possible threats to my safety in 1955 nocturnal Seattle, for a Black youth it was; bigoted old guard Irish cops (even though a Black policeman lived a block from me), the wilding white youth gangs that would beat up and rape minorities of any age as part of “Sowing their oats”, and any stranger not family wanting to give me a lift. Of course I’d leap into the vehicle of any of the YMCA staff who came to fetch me, or someone sent by my mom whom I would have immediately recognized.

I’m eight years old, well almost nine but have doubts that I can make the long trek, but I suddenly realized that I had marched five long hard uphill blocks, only twenty –one more blocks to go. I wasn’t totally dried off because I had just come out of the shower and was trying to catch up with my mates and staff, I was wearing a light jacket that mom grudgingly forced me to thankfully wear, and carrying a damp towel because I erroneously feared being punished for discarding it. This traveling or travail as the French say was more tiring than terrifying,  all the bright lights and dramatically lit gothic buildings, adorned with dramatic gargoyles, cute cherubs and celestial angels had its magic for me. And now I was at 10th avenue on Pill Hill, and took some comfort as I passed the St Francis Cabrini Hospital and St. James Cathedral, both adjacent buildings had a holy comforting quality, that urged me to see this a as a milestone of my journey. I trudged  the next five block past Seattle University on Broadway and Madison, my little tummy wanting that dinner mom would have waiting for me, but appreciative I was at least going down hill for a couple of blocks to 11th Avenue.

Now I was at the crossroads of Madison/11th Avenue/and Union Street, if I continued up Madison St. I could veer off at 21st and Madison to the YMCA on 23rd and Olive which was just five blocks from my home. Only twelve more long block and this one last five block medium incline past the Temple De Hirsh – Jewish temple, as I started down 18th and Madison I let the quickening  momentum of my youthful stride almost entice me to skip along past Mt. Zion Church. I was getting happy and excited that I was so close to home, that nothing bad had befallen me, and that I would soon be again at my home with my mother and siblings. I glanced up at the bus as I passed the YMCA on 23rd Ave with sadness, that should have been my transportation to this destination, but the excitement overtook me at the joy of being only four downhill blocks from home. Finally home my mother looked at me with an expression of guarded surprise and relief, she was incredulous that 8 year old precocious son had remembered the path home, and more amazingly traveled close to thirty city blocks without incident.  She did contact Mr. Matthews who ran the YMCA, who being a decent caring gentleman, was very surprised and concerned about our mishap, I think standing next to Mom on the phone restrained her “misgivings”.

All was well, I ate and prepared for bedtime, and had no trouble falling of to sleep, and the next time I was at my local YMCA mister Matthew apologized to me profusely and promised I would never be left again! I wish I could say I was never left again but in my teen years, on a beach trip to LakeSammamish I cut my foot on broken glass, was forgotten by the YMCA bus staff and had to walk home from the beach. Thank God for giving me a good sense of direction.

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