“Stop the car! Stop the car!” I yelled, startling everyone as I turned around to look out of the back window.
“Why? What’s wrong!” asked my husband, quickly stepping on the brakes and pulling over to the side of the road.
“That little girl is too young to be out here by herself, and she’s crying. I think she’s lost,” I said as I opened the car door and ran back to where the child was dragging a doll along the road.
She stopped walking when she saw me, but the tears continued to roll down her dirty face, and she kept hiccupping, “Mama….Mama.”
She looked to be about three years old, wearing pink pants, a pink and white striped shirt, and her black curly hair was coming undone from the ponytail high on her head. I bent down and picked her up and cuddled and shushed her as I walked back to the car, and the tears finally stopped.
“Now what?” asked my husband.
“I don’t know. She must be lost. I wonder how she got here? This is a busy road. I don’t see any other kids around. As far as I can see, there isn’t even a playground nearby.”
By this time my three-year old son, Wayne, in the back seat, awakening too soon from his nap, was rubbing his eyes and trying to figure out who this other child was in the car. My seven-year-old, Gary, pointed in the direction the little girl had been heading and said, “There are houses up there on that hill, maybe she lives there.”
That was as good a guess as any, so we drove up the road and pulled over at the foot of a long flight of wooden stairs that led up to a gray shingled house. I climbed the stairs in my new high heels and Easter Sunday finery carrying the tousled-haired child. I figured, even if she didn’t live there, they might recognize her. My knock on the door was answered by a man’s voice, “What do you want?”
“I found a little girl walking along-side this busy road, crying. Would you take a look at her and see if you recognize her?”
The door opened a crack. “Don’t know her. Never saw her before,” he said starting to close the door.
I put out my hand and stopped him; “Well, if you don’t know who she is, can you call the police and tell them that we have a lost child, and give them your address. We’ll wait down on the road in that car until they come,” I said pointing down to where our car was parked.
We were not familiar with the area, since we were just taking a leisurely drive on that Easter Sunday in 1967, on the way to dinner at my mother’s house in Towners, New York. I hoped this wasn’t going to make us late since the boys were looking forward to playing with their cousins, and hunting for Easter eggs.
Within about fifteen minutes a police car pulled up behind our car, and I opened my car door to speak to the policeman. I explained how we had found the little girl who had now fallen asleep with her head on my shoulder.
“Thanks for calling us,” said the policeman. “We haven’t had any calls about a lost kid, but I’ll take her now and drive over to the park and see if anybody’s looking for her.” As he reached for the little girl she came awake, saw him, grabbed me by the hair, held on tight and started screaming. The policeman pulled back, and the child finally calmed down.
“Looks like she feels safe with you,” he said. “Would you mind riding along with me, and your husband can follow along behind while we canvass the neighborhood and see if we can find out who she belongs to?”
The little girl settled in my arms again as I carried her to the police car, and soon we were driving around the streets near where we had picked her up, stopping whenever we saw children or adults walking, asking them if they recognized the child who was once more asleep.
“I can’t believe nobody has reported her missing. She’s only a baby!” I said in a mother’s voice of righteous indignation.
“Happens a lot,” said the policeman calmly. “People get distracted. Sooner or later, somebody will realize she’s not where she’s supposed to be.”
About half an hour later, the policeman finally got a call on his radio that a mother in an apartment complex about a half mile away had reported her child missing. When we drove over there, the distraught mother was waiting on the sidewalk with tears running down her cheeks.
“Would you mind waiting in the car with the kid while I talk to her mother?” asked the officer taking a notepad and pen out of his pocket and getting out of the car. As the woman approached the passenger side of the police car, the policeman stopped her, asked her some questions and made some notes in his book. Finally, he came over and opened my car door, and I handed the child and her doll over to her mother. She never said a word to me, just grabbed the child, and headed towards the nearby apartment building. I got out of the police car and watched as the officer turned to me and said, “All’s well that ends well.”
“What happens now?” I asked.
“Nothing!” he said. “The mother told me that, apparently, two older children were supposed to be watching the little girl in a nearby playground. They got involved in a game and completely forgot they were supposed to be babysitting while their mother was cooking Easter dinner.”
The police officer walked me over to my car and thanked my husband for following us all around town, and thanked us both for taking care of the little girl.
“I have one more question for you officer, who do I send the dry-cleaning bill to?” I asked, pointing to the front of my new Easter dress and coat, which were now soaked through where the little girl had peed in my lap.
Arlene Murray Adelkopf is the Author of RONA – A LIFE WITH SHARP EDGES, and has contributed short stories to several anthologies published by two writing cafes she facilitates in South Florida.