Write Again … And the legend grew

Published 12:32 am Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Truth to tell, I really do not remember when the idea first came to mind. Nor do I remember much about the specifics, other than in general. I do, however, recall that there were several of us — more than two — who were going to do it.

In the end (or should I say the actual beginning of it) there were only two of us intrepid enough to carry through on the plan.

If you substitute “stupid” for “intrepid” in the previous paragraph, you’d be much closer to reality.

So, on the second floor hallway of the high school, between changing classes, we put our books in our lockers, said so long to a couple of friends who opted to pass up the adventure, and took ourselves out and away from the halls of academe.

Two teenagers, one seventeen years of age by just a couple of months, and one a month away from that age.

Preston, the older partner in the now unfolding drama, was tall. Remember that. Yours truly was of average height (for those days).

We each left a note for our parents, located Preston’s mother’s car (theft of auto), and headed south.

Theft is the wrong word. We had no intention of keeping the not-in-mint-condition old Plymouth. We left it in Wilmington so someone could come and pick it up.

We then purchased bus tickets to Charleston, and were shortly thereafter on the second leg of our odyssey. Preston remembers me playing my harmonica on the bus ride. (It was probably about then that we were beginning to realize — feel — that maybe this wasn’t the smartest thing we had ever done. We didn’t admit this to each other, however.)

Well, we spent that first night at the YMCA in Charleston. I recall very well the foreboding feeling closing in on me.

Up early the next morning, out on the road, thumbs lifted in the universal sign of hitchhikers.

Back then, people would give perfect strangers a “lift” if they didn’t seem suspiciously unsavory. Plus, we were just teenagers.

After only two or three pickups we made it into Waycross, Georgia. We found a public phone, and called our childhood chum Doug, whose family had relocated to this south Georgia town a year or so earlier.

Whoever answered the phone at Doug’s house was not surprised at all. In fact, they were expecting us. Seems our parents knew what our plan would be.

Well, that was a Saturday afternoon, just a little more than twenty-four hours into the Great Escape.

Doug arrived in downtown Waycross just minutes later to pick us up. His mother “suggested” we each call our folks and let them know we were alright. This we did, with just a little trepidation, and more than a modicum of embarrassment.

We caught the train back to Rocky Mount the next day, where Preston’s uncle Bryan, who lived there, met us. Our fathers arrived shortly thereafter for the “reunion” and the ride home.

That was pretty much it. Journey bound on a Friday, back home Sunday night.

We then found out, when we returned, that our little excursion was, seemingly, widely known. The “Washington Daily News” had run a very short item with a headline that said “Two Local Boys Headed South.”

Lord. How dumb could two teenage boys have been?

I found out later that Coach Wagner came by our house to share his concern with my parents. I also found out that he opined that if we were going to Florida “Presley is a’tall enough to pick oranges, but Bartos is a’gonna starve.” Comforting.

Preston’s mother, Louise, was really put out with him. Whereas I had left what I probably thought was a reasonable explanation for why we were doing this, his note was more terse.

She said, “Bartow wrote a fine note to his parents. What did Mr. Preston write? He wrote, ‘See Bartow’s note. I feel the same way.’”

She lamented, in her rather Louise-like way, that “Preston didn’t even write his own note to his own mother!”

What had we been thinking? Who knows? Adolescents sometimes don’t do much of that; thinking, that is.

We were both good boys, didn’t get into any trouble, and I don’t recall any particular incident that precipitated our sojourn. Who knows? Who remembers?

In the subsequent telling of the tale, it seemed to take on an almost mythic proportion. (That’s a bit of hyperbole on my part, but over the course of the coming weeks and months I’m sure the tale was often told and embellished upon.)

That was a long, long time ago. Even now, from time to time, someone will bring this little bit of history up.

Mercy. I’m glad our daughters didn’t know about their Poppa’s “journey” when they were growing up.

It will be alright if the grandchildren don’t know about this, as well.