WILLIAMSTOWN >> Way back when I was a latchkey child growing up in New York City, I never experienced any trouble gaining entrance to the apartment in which I lived with my family nor while I was alone there.

Nonetheless I was happiest when my mother was not holding down a job and was home to greet me at the end of the school day.

On a day in October these many years later, I wished more fervently than ever before that someone was waiting for me at home.

I drove home about half past two that afternoon, after conducting an interview and returning a book to the Milne Public Library, and my stomach was growling "feed me." After pulling up in front of my home, I quickly reached for my house key in my handbag. "Oh no," I heard myself sigh when the key slipped from my hand and I lost sight of it.

Assuming the key had dropped between the driver's seat and the console, I squeezed my hand into that minuscule space, but found nothing. Next, I adjusted the driver's seat to bring it forward and looked for the key behind that seat. I still did not even see the key.

I wanted to raise the driver's seat, thinking that would allow me a clearer view of the floor. But I didn't remember how to do that; the only time I adjusted the vertical height was when the car was new three years ago.

So, I took out of the glove compartment the "Owner's Manual" which contains 532 pages. When I first saw that manual, I thought "This ought to come with a cheat sheet."


Referring to the table of contents and index was not much of a time saver compared to leafing through the pages, as instructions about "adjustable components" were included in several sections.

In time, I found out that the switch controlling vertical height serves more than one purpose. I, therefore, fiddled with that switch until I was satisfied the seat was actually being raised. I should not have bothered as the key continued eluding me.

My next tack was to fetch a long handled snow brush to enable me to reach farther under the driver's seat than I had been able to do with my hand as I had perched on the edge of the back seat.

As I carried the snow brush from the trunk of the car, I caught a passerby looking at me quizzically — eyebrows raised. After all it was 80 degrees on that Indian summer day in October.

By then, my stomach was furious with me for ignoring its need for nourishment, and the growling had escalated into roaring. "I could have something to eat at the Moonlight Dinner," I said to myself, "but that would not solve my key problem."

I renewed my search for the key with all the energy I could muster on an empty stomach.

As it turned out, the brush was too long to maneuver under the driver's seat

I decided to seek help at the service station I patronize. There, Diane, co-owner of the business along with her husband John , crawled on the floor of my car, sweeping her hands beneath the driver's seat, as if they were windshield wipers set on high. (I admittedly envied her dexterity)

Diane pulled from beneath the driver's seat, several items that went missing from my handbag a while ago: a small bottle of holy water, a makeup compact and a 75 cent discount coupon for paper towels. Great, I thought,now I can bless myself, powder my nose and save 75 cents the next time I go to the supermarket. But where is my key?

Diane did not disappoint, and on her second try, she succeeded in retrieving my house key.

Perhaps I should hang my house key on a string around my neck as I did when I was a latchkey child.

Phyllis McGuire writes from Williamstown.