The child in the Target store suddenly missed her mother. The little girl pulled her attention away from the toy display and looked around. Her eyes grew large. She turned in a full circle, frowning, catching her breath.
I thought to speak and reassure her but, being a stranger, I hesitated. She took a tentative step down the aisle and I watched — knowing, remembering how she felt . . .
It was 1940. A carnival had come to town and set up in a big field at the end of Main Street. Everyone in the county must have been there. Never in all my six years had I seen such sights. Daddy bought us cotton candy and then we rode the merry-go-round. As we walked along the mid-way, I saw a man pounding a stump vigorously with a huge mallet, trying to ring a bell. The muscles across his back flexed with each swing. I stopped to watch.
He slammed a mighty blow and the “bong” could be heard all over the fairgrounds. I spun around to see the family’s reaction to this amazing feat.
“Look, Mama . . .”
I was alone. Daddy, Mama and all four siblings had disappeared. I looked right — left — all about. They were nowhere to be seen.
My chest felt tight; I needed to go to the bathroom. My nose and eyes burned as I turned and turned, searching the crowd of strangers. What should I do? Never in my most far-fetched fantasy had it occurred to me there might be a time when Mama and Daddy were not with me. I whirled around once more.
Then, through tears, I spotted Mama coming toward me, followed by the rest of my loved ones. Saved!
Mama told me “good girl” for standing still so she could find me by returning to the last place we’d been together. I didn’t tell her I was just trying to decide which way to run.
The little girl in the Target store made her decision and took of in a dead heat. I followed. The mother came around the end of the next aisle, scolding the child for wandering off. I wanted to tell the mom that she was the one who wandered off, but again, as a stranger, I reconsidered.
The pair moved on to continue shopping, the youngster clinging to the cart. No hug. No “good girl.” Maybe the mom didn’t know the feeling of being lost.
But the child will never forget.