Stranger drills: ‘I pity the stranger’

Published 10:00 am Saturday, May 6, 2017

Way back in the olden days, there was no such thing as a “Latchkey Kid”. Oh, kids stayed home by themselves all the time, but it wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t usually for long, and kids knew not to turn on the oven or play with matches or practice their circus knife-throwing skills on their little brothers. Most of the time everything went as smooth as silk, and we kids learned a lot about responsibility.

In our house, though, from the time I was about nine until I was eleven, staying at home alone wasn’t an occasional thing; it was a near-daily thing. Daddy worked until early evening and Mama was finishing up her degree all the way over in Carrollton, so Brother and I came home to an empty house most days. We didn’t mind. We loved our little house and we lived in the middle of a wonderful neighborhood where we could just open a window and holler and ninety-seven mothers would be at the door in two seconds flat. Also, the park was right behind our house, and as long as we didn’t get too sweaty or forget to come home on time, we could play on the swings without Mama figuring out that we hadn’t sealed ourselves inside the house until she was home.

One of the things that parents worried about most when we were little was that while their kids were home alone, a Stranger would knock on the door and a kid would open the door and all sorts of murder and mayhem would occur. Mama just rolled her eyes when we asked her if she was worried about a Stranger knocking on our door. She said she pitied the poor old Stranger if he tried to get us, because he would surely be getting way more than he bargained for. I worried though, and I decided that someone had to make sure that Brother and I could protect ourselves from eeeevil folks who knocked on our door.

At least once a week, I announced to Brother that we were going to have a Stranger Drill after school. Brother loved Stranger Drills, but he never took them seriously enough, and giggled the whole way through. I put a lot of thought and planning into those drills, and I paced back and forth each time we were to begin, barking like a Drill Sargent.

“Okay, here we go. Do you know where everything is? Good. Do you want to be in charge of the starch this time? Never mind, I’m older, I’ll do that part. Okay, this is serious! Our lives might depend on it! Ready? Okay. One…two…threeeeee…DING DONG!!!”

The “ding dong” was the evil Stranger ringing the doorbell!

Both of us would hit the floor, flat as fritters, and be as still as we could, figuring that maybe the bad guy would just go on to the next house in search of kids to grab. But of course, wouldn’t you know it, there was always another ding dong, so the next part of our plan had to be activated.

Still flat on the floor, I would whisper, “Bat Crawl!” to Brother. It was hard, but using our tummy muscles and our outstretched arms and legs, we would kind of scootch across the floor in just the way that the Caped Crusader and his trusty sidekick, Robin, did in many of our favorite comic book stories. It was slower going for us though, probably because we didn’t have on Bat Tights.

Once we made it to the kitchen, about twelve feet away, we would leap to our feet and grab our designated Stranger-fighting items. Brother would grab one of Mama’s cast iron frying pans from the cupboard, and I would fling open the door to the laundry nook and grab a can of Niagara Spray Starch, turn around with cat-like grace, and silently slide open the knife drawer, withdrawing Mama’s long, very sharp butcher knife.

Carefully, carefully, we’d set our tools on the floor, and assume the Bat position once more. It was always harder to Bat Crawl back to the living room, because we lacked the Bat Utility Belt to conveniently hold the weapons, and had to slide across the floor holding a frying pan, a can of starch and a knife that would cause all sorts of punishment, and probably a babysitter, if Mama ever found out I was regularly waving it around without adult supervision, in our little hands.

Eventually, we would make it back to the living room, where Brother’s next duty was to stand in front of the door, and I would crawl up onto an end table that was beside it, making me about Stranger height. One more doorbell ring, and Brother would fling the door open!

“Hyyyyyy-yahhhhh!” I hollered as I sprayed starch in the Stranger’s beady little eyes! As he bent down in pain, his head was conveniently lowered so that Brother could swing the frying pan and bonk him on the noggin. Then, as he reeled, discombobulated from the blow, I would step in and dispatch him with the knife.

I’m glad that no Stranger, or mailman or traveling salesman, ever rang our bell while we were home alone, and I’m sure that Mama had no idea what we were up to while she was away, but I do wonder what she meant when she said that she pitied the Stranger who ever tried to get us.

Pepper Ellis Hagebak is a resident of LaGrange.