I Rode with Strangers for the First Time at Age 7
When a black SUV pulled up and stopped next to me, my biking siblings were too far away and focused on winning the race to intervene.
They asked me if I needed a ride, and I said yes. After all, I was only seven.
I grew up in a yellow rectangular house on five acres. We had everything: a pool, woods, tree fort, zip line, rope swing, tether-ball pole, sledding hill, baseball field . . . It was a child’s paradise.
About a half mile down the dirt road from our house was The Park. It hosted four swings with thick silver chains, hard black rubber seats, and sturdy green support beams that were just the right size to shimmy up.
Our community used to have a picnic at The Park every summer, complete with a clown making balloon shapes, lots of people, and lots of food. We always went.
While my parents talked to the neighbors, my siblings and I stuffed our pockets with the free candy on the picnic tables.
One year, when I was still small enough (around seven) for my dad’s deep brown cowboy boots to come past my knees, my family went to the picnic in installments. Some of us walked, others rode bikes. After eating and participating in some neighborhoodly activities, my sister, brother, and I headed home. They were on bikes, I was on foot.
Too small and chubby to have any chance of success in the impromptu race someone started (competition is a fact of life in big families), I ran up the hill behind them.
Tired and losing the race, after a minute or two I stopped running completely.
That’s when a black SUV pulled up and stopped next to me. Through an open window or door, the nice people offered me a ride. I didn’t know them, but I did know I’d have great bragging rights if I beat the older siblings home. I nodded my blonde head, clutched my balloon animal close, and climbed in.
The ride home took less than two minutes, and I don’t remember it at all.
What I do remember is gloating at the end of the driveway after they dropped me off, and waiting for the older ones to get home on their bikes so I could proudly boast my victory.
To my shock, the pride only lasted for a moment after reaching the house, because that’s when my parents found out.
I had my bath, put on my flannel Winnie-the-Pooh nightgown (white, with a cotton candy pink ruffle around the bottom), then got the first, and perhaps most severe, lecture of my childhood. If you’re a parent, you can imagine how it went.
I learned that accepting rides from strangers was not a good idea. Until then, I didn’t know.
After that, I knew. I definitely knew.
After the scolding had ended, they wiped away my repentant tears. My mom hugged and kissed me, and my dad held me as I cried off the sting of the reprimand.
Even long after I finished crying, he still held me. He gently swayed back and forth and told me, again and again, that he loved me.