(reading time 5 ½ minutes)
I had a baby sitter, boy what a baby sitter I had! My mother knew that little boys left alone could get into all kinds of trouble. Soooo, I had a baby sitter. I was five, she was 14. She was a most beautiful and exciting lady to me, quite mature and blossoming. Even at age five, I noticed such things. I was irreconcilably, madly in love with her. She wore boy’s clothes, sometimes overalls. She was not only beautiful and sexy, but was a Tom Boy. Her name was Gracie Rankin. She did all the boy things, like play baseball, hockey and shooting marbles.
It was depression time, 1931. My mother had to work to make ends meet. She left for work at 7:00 AM. Gracie was on summer vacation from school. She would come to our house and sometimes help me get washed and dressed. She liked this part of baby-sitting, and if she got there a little bit early, she could bath me and help my mother even more. We lived three blocks from the railroad in the small town of Prospect Park, Pennsylvania. During the day, Gracie would take me for a walk around town and to the schoolyard, where she played baseball with the boys. She really gave them tough competition, and was a great pitcher. They all wanted her on their team.
One day, as we took a walk by the freight cars along the railroad tracks, Grace said, “Let’s climb into one of these empty box cars and see what they’re like.” She boosted me up through the partially open door and then climbed in herself. The door on the opposite side was closed. It was really dark in there. Gracie took my hand and led me towards the corner where there was a big box. As we approached the box, a scrawny, scraggly, dirty tramp jumped out and screamed, “What are you doing here?” I screamed, but Gracie faced him down and said, “None of your business.” He wielded a knife and demanded that we empty our pockets to see if we had anything he wanted. Gracie refused. He pointed the knife at her chest, which convinced her to comply. She had small change like a few pennies and a nickel. I had one penny. “Gimme’ that”, he demanded. He grabbed the change and ushered us to the back of the freight car. “Stay here, face the wall, and don’t you move for ten minutes”, he said, “or I’ll cut your throats.” We were petrified and didn’t move. I was crying and Gracie was cursing the tramp. We heard the door on the car slide shut with a bang, and then silence and darkness. All of a sudden, the boxcar violently lurched in motion with a crash, throwing us to the floor. The boxcar started to move with us inside. The door was closed, the train was moving, we were locked inside, the tramp was gone. Now Gracie started to cry. It was pitch black inside. We were going away somewhere, but where? How will we get home? My mother will be worried, I thought. Then in less than a minute, all of a sudden the train stopped with a loud jolting crash, once again sending us crashing to the floor, probably coupling with another boxcar just a few car lengths away. We ran to the doors where a little light shone through the cracks and tried to open them. They were locked. We both banged on the doors yelling, “Help, help!” In a few minutes, one door opened. A man with a club stood outside the door and said, “How did you kids get in there? Get out, now!” We jumped down. Gracie said, “Run!” We ran as fast as we could, towards home. Gracie made me promise to never tell my mother what happened to us. I promised.
We went home and put the checkerboard on the floor, just in time for my mom to come home and see us peacefully playing checkers. Mom said, “Well what have you two been up to today?” “Oh nothing special,” Gracie replied, “just took a walk and played some games.” “That’s nice”, mom said to Gracie. “It’s so comforting to know that you take such good care of my little boy. He is such a good kid, but a little adventurous at times, and needs someone like you to keep him safe. Be sure to come back tomorrow, same time.”
Gracie taught me many things that were very exciting for a five year old. (Our secrets) I’m glad my mother picked Gracie for my baby sitter. She was wonderful. I still have some endearing memories of that exciting, gorgeous and adventurous, Tom Boy, even 80 years later. But, that’s another story for another time. The last time I heard of her, she was a pitcher on a men’s baseball team in our old hometown. Some memories are irreplaceable. I wonder what happened to my first love. Gracie, if you happen to see this, send me an e-mail, please.