I don’t have children of my own, so I can only imagine what’s it like to have to deal with them on a regular basis. I imagine taking a child with you to the grocery store is a little bit like going into Baghdad with a civilian. You never know what is immediately around the corner… what display will actually be an IUD… what innocent looking cereal box is really a suicide bomber… So I’ll tell this story with the caveat that when it happened Big Sara was leaving a visit to Baghdad with me. She was clearly suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and can’t be held entirely accountable. This is a story I have told for years, much to Big Sara’s horror, and always to much laughter.
Looking back, my mother amazes me – she worked full-time as a teacher, raised two (three if you count my Dad) children and was totally involved in everything we did. Through all that, dinner was always on the table by 5:30 pm when my Dad got home. He walked in the back door, took off his coat and tie and then sat down to his dinner. He wasn’t a chauvinist, really, but he sat at the head of the table and when his tea was empty… he simply shook the glass and Elizabeth or I got up to refill the glass. This type of service is really the only bonus I see to having children. Though, it seems like an awful lot of work to have an in-home waitress. I mean, I’ll just keep going to Chili’s and skip the whole shitty diaper bit.
In her pursuit of maternal sainthood, Big Sara faltered every now and then. I’ve spent my life retelling her missteps to anyone that will listen. This is one of her best.
It was a crisp, clear, fall afternoon. I ended my day at Huffman Elementary and walked the path to Shepton High School. I passed the track and the tennis courts and the students there were familiar with my little purple bag and me. They knew I was Mrs. Woodard’s daughter walking “home” from school. My school day ended before my mom’s, so I would simply walk to Shepton, check-in with her, and then sit in the English office working on my homework until it was time to go home. That day, before getting home we had to stop at Tom Thumb for some groceries in order to prepare aforementioned meal by 5:30 pm. So we hurried out the door as quickly as possible and drove to Tom Thumb (Baghdad). The shopping trip itself was totally unremarkable and I can’t really remember if anything of note happened. It’s what happened after the shopping trip that matters. It’s what happened after that trip that has scarred me to this day.
My job at the time was to return the shopping cart to the “corral” after we had loaded the groceries into our 1985 Gray Travel Quest Van. So, off I go to return the buggy and I turn to see the van backing out of the parking space. “That’s nice, she is coming to pick me up.” So I wait at the “corral” for Big Sara to come get me. But the van turns in the opposite direction. “Wait, does she have to pull around to get to me is this a one way street?” It is not.
I am frozen in terror.
As the van, my mother, and my way of life sped up and away from me my terror became very real. I am going to be Punky-effing Brewster. I am being abandoned and will have to go live with an old man. My best friend’s name will be Cherry. This cannot happen. There cannot be a Cherry and Sherry duo.
In a haze of Sherry/Cherry terror, I took off in a dead sprint after the Travel Quest van. I need you to keep in mind that this was long before Park and Preston were fully developed so every exit from the parking lot had draw backs – there weren’t lights and it was a high traffic time of day. As a result, Big Sara went to three different exits before she decided which one to use. She did all this with an eight-year-old child running behind her screaming bloody murder for her to stop.
I couldn’t catch her and she never noticed me. Even with the multiple stops to select the best exit, I couldn’t catch up to her car. She turned right onto Preston and out of my life forever.
I was hysterical. I ran back to the Tom Thumb and began desperately looking for an adult to save me – to take me in like Punky Brewster. Would they give me one of those wagon beds and let me paint my room in bright colors? Would I have ponytail holders with sun shines on them?
I enter the Tom Thumb and look around. It was indeed Baghdad and I doubted that Big Sara followed the Marine motto of not leaving a man behind. I was alone, utterly alone. I spot a kind looking man behind the video counter. I approach the counter and through tears recount my story of abandonment to him. He is clearly moved by my story. So much so that he says the following:
“Well, we aren’t allowed to let people use the phone but I will give you a quarter for the pay phone, Ok?”
Then the dude legitimately reaches into his apron pocket and gives me a quarter. Are you shitting me? Are you shitting me?
An 8-year-old child, abandoned and alone in your store and your course of action is to give her a quarter. Are you shitting me? How about calling the police? How about a store manager? Not an effing quarter. To this day, I am still in awe of that response.
I take my quarter… now the only thing I have in my life… no parents or siblings or belongings… just that quarter from the video man. I walk outside to the pay phone to call my Dad. He won’t let Mom leave me at the grocery store. But this is long before phone systems that anyone answered after 5 pm and before cell phones. There was no answer at my dad’s office. I had nowhere to go and no one to call. That’s when I saw a 1985 Gray Travel Quest Van pulling up to the store. As soon as Big Sara sees me, she breaks out into… laughter. Not tears, laughter. Hysterical laughter. I have been traumatized, abandoned and left to live with the old man from Punky Brewster and all she can do is laugh. I sobbed the whole way home to her laughter about me being so dramatic. She did apologize. But she apologized through laughter.
To her credit, she didn’t get that far before she realized that I was not in the backseat. But she got far enough. Little did I know that this was simply the beginning of her forgetting me in places… she forgot to pick me up from our 8th grade Washington trip and one year she forget to pick me up at the airport from camp. So I think my deep abandonment issues are warranted.
I just wanted you all to know that when you go to the grocery store and there are shopping carts just strewn about the parking lot – well, those are from me. Because since that I day I have been terrified of returning the cart to the “corral” even when shopping alone.
If you wonder why I panic without a phone or why I like to drive to places… well, it’s because I need to have an exit strategy from anywhere that I am in case you forget me…like my mother did.