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The Boy in the Window

Written by Jeff Drake
7 · 28 · 23

The Boy in the Window

If you are anything like me, you probably have some occasional childhood memories that pop, unbidden, into your head from time-to-time. I don’t always know what triggers them. Some are mere snippets, like remembering playing with a toy toolbox that had a little metal saw, which I found rather fascinating. Why does this keep appearing in my memory over the years? It might be due to the fact that this is tied to my first memory of my grandmother and uncle being quite visibly angry with me. I thought sawing into the leg of a very old mahogany dining room table was a noble pursuit and a lot of fun! Them, not so much. LOL.

I try looking at these pop-up memories as if they are dreams. When analyzing dreams, some experts say, one should not focus on the visuals and imagery, but rather on the feelings one is experiencing during the dream. In this particular case, the only feeling I have when the memory appears is… nothing, really. It’s almost like a silent movie clip. I do remember the fun I felt discovering how the little saw could be used, and feeling surprised that my grandmother and uncle could get so mad at me, but why would this matter so many years after the fact?  Am I really still trying to work something out about this?

Another childhood memory that visits me periodically is from the time I lived in an upper apartment on the alley at 319 ½  North 4th Avenue West in Duluth, Minnesota. Dick Hadrich was a friend I played with frequently at the time. He and his family lived in a house in the alley across the street from me, between 4th and 3rd avenues. I wish I had a nickel for every time I walked through that alley on the way to or from his house.

Being so familiar with the alleys in our neighborhood, anything out of the ordinary was something I noticed. So, it was with some surprise one day as I was walking home from Dick’s, that I noticed a boy peering out of an upstairs window of an apartment building on the upper side of his alley. I knew every kid in the area, but I didn’t know this boy, so I figured he must be new. But, there was something off about him. And this is where my memory of him always begins. It begins with my memory of his sad face pressed up against the window, looking down at me.

I think I must have walked past that boy’s apartment several times before I noticed that suddenly he wasn’t alone in the window. A woman now appeared with him, someone I took to be his mother. And she started waving at me. Then they both did. Here my memory fades out. I don’t remember his name, nor what he looked like, which is odd, as I remember so many faces from that time in my life, people I knew and people I didn’t know, but saw frequently. I wonder if the reason I can’t remember is because of the rather traumatic, near catastrophic, event that was about to envelop both of us.

It turned out the woman was indeed his mother. I have a vague memory of his mother bringing the boy down to meet me in the alley. We were the same age and she thought we could be friends. I don’t remember anything specific about this, just an awareness that it happened. I have to believe that we played together and I probably even brought him over to my apartment. I’m pretty sure the timeframe for these events was during summer, when I was around 10 years old. One day his mother asked if I could go with her, her son, and a male friend of hers for a picnic over in Superior, Wisconsin. I am not sure that this man was his father. I don’t think he was. My grandmother agreed to this, which is why I figure the boy and me must have interacted a number of times, as my grandmother was pretty careful about who I hung out with. “Cool!,” I thought. “This should be fun!” I could not have been more wrong.

Even at age 10 I knew what drunk adults were all about and it usually did not mean anything good! This is why, when I went over to the boy’s apartment to leave for the picnic, I got immediately concerned that the mom and her boyfriend were already drunk. I couldn’t gauge how drunk they were, but I knew that I had seen adults behave rather badly in that state.

I remember feeling very unsettled about this, but apparently not enough to back out of going on the picnic, so we all eventually ended up in the car heading over to Superior. I think intuitively I knew that this might end badly somehow, but didn’t have enough experience to imagine what might transpire down the road. I remember crossing a bridge. For some reason, I think we went over the Arrowhead bridge. Again, I can’t remember any specific details of the argument or what the boy and I were doing, although I remember that the mood inside the car was not good, right from the get-go. The boy and I sat quietly while we watched his mom and her boyfriend argue. I don’t know what it was about, but it went on and on and eventually got quite heated. I was now beginning to get scared. I felt bad for the boy. I was getting a rather disturbing insight into what his life was like. Although my uncle was an alcoholic, he was nothing like the boy’s mom and boyfriend. But I only had to look as far as my cousin’s family to find drunks of this caliber. So, these two had me worried. I think I felt kind of trapped.

The yelling escalated while we were driving to the site of the picnic. Again, I don’t remember what they were fighting about. It may have been something about the picnic location. The mother was very unhappy and crying and yelling. In any event, the yelling soon graduated to hitting as she started hitting her boyfriend while he was driving! I remember getting scared, and I think she suddenly grabbed the steering wheel and the car lurched as the man swerved over to the side of the road, hard enough that I was pressed against the right rear passenger door. When the car screeched to a stop, I looked out the window. We were about a foot from what looked to be a ledge on the side of the road. I found myself peering down into a ravine of some sort. It looked like it was way down there, if you know what I mean. I think my heart stopped.

So there we were, two very scared kids in the car with two angry adults and what appeared to be a near-disaster outside the car window. I vaguely remember that they eventually stopped fighting and even have a memory that seeing how scared her son and I were is what stopped the fight. After this we somehow managed to have a picnic of sorts. I also remember the boy’s mother trying to reassure me that this kind of thing would not happen again. I got the distinct impression that this was a story she had told other kids before me, other kids who befriended her son, and she was worried I might stop playing with her son as a result.

After we got home, I remember running home to the safety of the apartment I shared with my grandmother and uncle. I arrived home feeling very much that I had just missed something dangerous, and it scared me. The only memory I have of the kid after this is once again walking past his apartment in the ally and seeing his sad face staring out at me. I looked at him and he at me and we both knew we would never play together again, and we never did. I started walking home another way to avoid seeing him in the window. Soon, they were gone. Years later, I’m still obviously somewhat haunted by the experience.

While this is not a memory that I think of frequently, I’m left wondering why it comes into my head at all? When it returns, I can’t help but wonder whatever happened to the boy in the window? Are memory fragments a part of your mental life, too?

Let us know what you think…


1 Comment

  1. Kathleen Treb

    Thanks for sharing a childhood memory. I could visualize the boy in the window and the fighting in the front seat of the car. Unfortunately you were still the Jeff Drake I know not a 10-year-old boy. We must share photos of our youth.


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Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.