The Night of the Roadrunner

As I previously mentioned, my grandmother came to live with my family just after her 90th birthday. She had slipped into a depression at that point, and instead of living on her own, everyone thought it best she be surrounded by family who loved her on a daily basis.

My grandmother was pretty amazing. Having been the oldest girl in her family, she left school after the eighth grade to help raise her siblings. She was born in 1899 and so was always one year older than the calendar year. She scooted around the house with relative ease for her age, and could be found, on occasion, pilfering snacks from the walk-in pantry. Having been raised in an age where food was scarce coupled with a generational shame of eating publicly, Grandmom liked to maintain an illusion of a birdlike appetite. This required sneaking food from time to time. Her hearing wasn’t the greatest, so I suspect she didn’t realize just how loud the crumple of the pretzel bag really was, no matter how careful she thought she was being.

I hesitate to say my grandmother had a naughty streak as that seems to infantilize her, but there were times when she most certainly appeared to be so. In her defense, any grown woman who raised a family, lived through the depression and two world wars along with every other moment of the 20th century might find it necessary to act out a wee bit.

Or maybe even a lot, which explains the night of the Roadrunner.

As Thanksgiving was drawing near, we broke it to Grandmom that instead of the usual trip to Pennsylvania to eat with extended family, she would be going to Ohio with us. Grandmom was displeased. Truth be told, so was I, but that’s the deal when you’re a kid. Grandmom was an adult and let her displeasure be known. She’d done Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house for decades and wasn’t about to cave to this Ohio insanity.

There was, however, no dissuading my parents from their nefarious plan. The old girl tried, and for that I was grateful, but the parentals were unmoved. It was Ohio or bust. The night before our trip, we all went to bed in the usual way, except Grandmom, who had apparently worked out her own agenda.

The first step involved spitting out her sleep medication.

As this all took place in the early 1990s, before the days of home video monitoring systems and the like, the rest of the details are probable as opposed to definite, but what we do know for sure is this: at around 2 o’clock that morning, the phone rang, and one of Crofton’s finest let my dad know that his mother was in the back of a squad car.

Yes, in the fourth week of November, a particularly chilly time of year, my 92 year-old grandmother was found walking down the middle yellow line of Route 450 wearing nothing but her nightgown.

Luckily, the police officer was extremely understanding when he returned my recalcitrant Grandmom to our home in the middle of the night. He may have even been impressed that she had managed to travel over a mile down the highway. And fortunately, she was completely unharmed and not at all damaged by the cold. My parents managed a sense of humor in light of her safety and nicknamed her the roadrunner, vowing to install a higher lock on the door upon our return from the next day’s trip.


Yes, we all loaded up the big brown van the next day as previously planned and headed off to Ohio. And as my father completed the prayers of grace before carving into the Thanksgiving turkey, right before we all joined in an “amen,” he thanked God for my grandmother’s safety and declared, “MEEP MEEP!”

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