Rule #1: Always tell us where you are going and when you’ll be back.
One boring Saturday night in the spring of 1964, my friend Janet and I, both seventeen, told our parents we were going to the movies. But we’d already seen the main features in the theaters. So we dressed as much like college girls as we could and headed downtown.
Rule #2: Don’t talk to strangers, especially sailors.
Janet suggested we go to the Puritan restaurant, where the young sailors on shore leave hung out. We went inside and ordered two cups of coffee, hoping someone would come along to buy the second round. Before long two cute Greek naval midshipmen asked if they could sit down and practice their English.
Rule #3: Don’t accept anything from strangers, especially a drink.
Giorgos and Demetri, who were about our age, treated us to three cups of coffee and told us more about Greece than we’d ever learned in history class. At some point a Greek American sailor heard the boys having trouble with their English and began translating.
Rule #4: Never leave town without our permission.
Nick, the Greek American, told us there was a Greek festival that night at the Eastern Orthodox church in Norwich, about twenty miles away. There would be food and dancing, and he had extra tickets. Did we want to go? It sounded like fun, and it must be safe if it was in a church, I thought.
Rule #5: Never get into a car with a stranger.
We all piled into Nick’s Volkswagen van. When we got to the church, the party was in full swing. Janet and I barely had time to taste the gyros, spanakopita, and baklava before some older women grabbed our hands and dragged us onto the dance floor. We wove in and out of the line of men, and everyone shouted, “Opa!” whenever someone executed a particularly impressive move.
Rule #6: Never, ever get into a car driven by someone who has been drinking.
It was nearing midnight, and instead of coffee, the Greek boys were well into the ouzo. (We’d tasted it and found it unpalatable.) Worse, Nick appeared totally wasted. Janet pulled me aside and asked, “Do you think he can even drive?”
Then I remembered my father’s other rule.
Rule #7: Wherever you are, whomever you are with, no matter what the hour, if you need to get out of there, call me. I will come get you, no questions asked.
To make sure I could call, my dad gave me a dime for the pay phone every time I left the house. I fished that dime out of my wallet now, and Janet and I found a phone booth on the street. After many rings, Dad’s sleepy voice answered, and I told him where we were. He started to ask what we were doing there, then said, “Never mind. I know where it is. I’m on my way.”
We rode home in complete silence. I knew Dad had plenty of questions, but the deal was that he wouldn’t ask them.
I never thanked my father for keeping his end of the bargain, but years later I offered the same arrangement to my own kids. It’s the one rule every parent should make, because somebody your son or daughter is going to break all the others.
-- Mary Elizabeth Lang, “Readers Write About Breaking the Rules,”