Keith Hunt - Stranger on the Road - Page Ten   Restitution of All Things

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Stranger on the Road

The child whose was late, but...

STRANGER ON THE ROAD


. . . And I think that saving a little child, 
And fotching him to his own,
Is a derned sight better business 
Than loafing around the Throne.

JOHN HAY, "LITTLE BREECHES"


     Edward Strnad has had a long and affectionate relationship
with angels. The youngest of eleven children - and the only one
with dimples - he once asked his mother where he got them.
"That's where the angels kissed you!" she laughed.
     But the Strnad family also lived through the Great
Depression and knew firsthand how is felt to be hungry. When
Edward grew up and raised his own family, he often volunteered
for various food-collection banks, determined to do whatever he
could to help the less fortunate. Thus, it was natural that he
would notice the child ... and take action.
     Edward drives into Cleveland every morning on I-77. At East
30th Street, he says, there is an on ramp and three lanes that
split to form 1-90. One overcast and blustery winter morning, he
spotted a young boy leaning into the wind, walking on the right
shoulder of the hazardous highway. Although clean and neat, he
was dressed too lightly for Cleveland's raw weather, wearing only
a short poplin jacket and no hat or gloves. Under his arm were a
few books.
     Edward was astonished. "My first thought was that the boy
should not be there at all - it was far too dangerous," he says.
"But by this time I had passed him." Edward could not bring
himself to abandon the child. Somehow he was able to cross three
lanes of rush-hour traffic before the interstate split and pull
onto the berm. He could see the boy behind him, and as the child
approached. Edward rolled down the electric window. "Where are
you going?" he asked. "And why are you walking along this open
highway?"
"The bus forgot to pick me up," the child explained. He looked
about nine or ten. "I'm going to school."
"What school?"
"Tremont, on Tenth Street"
     Edward frowned. Tremont was on Cleveland's near west side,
quite a distance. Why would this child be going there?
Then Edward realized that the boy was probably part of
Cleveland's integration-busing program and would indeed attend
class far from home. To reach Tremont this morning on foot,
however, he still had to negotiate three lanes of high-speed
traffic, cross a windy bridge and another heavily traveled avenue
- at least a three-mile trip. "Would you like a ride to school?"
Edward asked.
     The boy shook his head, but stayed where he was. The warm
car was obviously tempting.

"You're right not to accept rides from strangers," Edward
reassured him, taking identification out of his wallet. "But see?
My son is a police officer, and I have an honorary badge with my
son's number, marked 'father.' And here's my driver's license. .
...." The boy studied the photos carefully, apparently torn
between wanting a ride and worrying about his safety. "I
understood his fear. I'd told my own children never to accept a
ride from a stranger," Edward says. But he had to wait until the
child made up his mind. Eventually the freezing wind won and the
child hesitantly got into the car.
     Edward stayed as quiet and nonthreatening as possible, just
keeping his eyes on the road. "We didn't exchange more than ten
words on the way," he says, "only those necessary for
directions:" It was important that this little boy feel safe. His
journey today had been difficult enough already.
     At last they arrived at Tremont school, an old brick
building in one of Cleveland's poorest but quaintly charming
sections (now called Ohio City). There was a tubular fence about
two feet tall around the front lawn, but not a person in sight -
no traffic, no noise, not even a patrol boy walking across the
playground. "It almost looked like school was closed;" Edward
recalls. "But of course the weather was nasty, and classes would
have already started."

     Edward stopped, and without looking back, the child got out
and started quickly up the walk to the school's front door.
Before he had entered the building, Edward was already on his
way.
     Throughout the morning, however, Edward's thoughts returned
to the little traveler. Odd that he happened to be on the
highway, stranger still that Edward was able to shoot across
three lanes of traffic without mishap to reach him. And it
bothered Edward that he had not actually watched the child safely
enter the building.... Finally, he phoned the school just to make
sure his little passenger, although late, was safely in class.
But Edward was in for a surprise. School was indeed in session,
but the woman who answered the phone reassured Edward that no
child had been tardy that morning.
"But I dropped him off right in front of the building, after
school had started;" Edward protested.
"No one can enter the building after the bell rings, sir," the
woman explained. "Everything is locked as soon as the children
are checked in. He would have had to be admitted by an adult. And
no child was late today."
     Edward sighed. "Then he must have played hockey. Or ... what
if something happened to him?"
"I can inquire;" she said. "Can you describe him?"
     Edward did, and then waited while the woman did some
checking. When she came back, she seemed as puzzled as he. "No
child answers your description;" she told him. "And attendance
records don't show any child missing today. Every youngster who's
supposed to be here is accounted for."

     To this day, some seven years later, the episode is still
vivid, Edward says. But its harder for him to understand the why
of it all. Perhaps Edward was used or "tested" in a way he still
does not fully understand. Maybe the incident affects others in
its retelling.
     Whatever the reason, Edward is confident that he will one
day meet the child again. "He was brown," Edward told me. "I am
white. What color are angels?

                            ...................

Entered on this Website October 2007


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