We lived in the heart of Baltimore, on East Preston Street at the intersection of Milton Avenue when I was a child. Early one summer morning we were preparing to leave on a road trip to Florence, South Carolina. Our car was parked in the alley behind our home, on a slight incline. I was probably in the way, so my Dad put me in the car while he and my brothers went in and out of the house, loading suitcases and lunch. I was probably three, maybe four years old. This was back in the days when no one wore seatbelts and when traveling, little children stood on the front seat between parents. It sounds incredulous now, but that was normal. So he put me in my normal position and told me to be still. I wanted to, I really did. There was just too much temptation.
They went in the house for the next load. I did what I'd seen my Day do a hundred times. I shifted the gear into neutral. Shifting gears on those cars didn't require a key in the ignition, just a firm tug. My older brother, Ronnie, returned to the back door with the next bag and saw the car slowly drifting down the little hill. Milton was a busy street, even in the early morning. The car, my Dad and I were going to be in a heck of a lot of trouble if I reached it. Ronnie screamed and my father came flying out of the back door. I vividly remember looking back, seeing his long legs churning as he ran that car down. It was picking up speed as it rolled, but so was he. He caught the handle, yanked open the door, jumped in and threw the gear back up to park. He sat there for a minute, huffing and puffing, then he turned slowly and looked at me. "Are you OK?" he asked. I was wide-eyed, but more than OK — hot-diggity-dog, my Dad was Superman! But to be on the safe side, he backed that car back up the hill, put it in park and set the emergency brake. Then he carried me back inside our home where my Mom parked me in a kitchen chair, in plain view. That's where I stayed until the car was packed and we all got in it together.