We were just finishing our wonton soup when the waiter came over and said, “Excuse me, is one of you Captain Coleman?” My husband stood up. “You have a call.”

When he returned, his voice was measured but anxious. “That was Vickie. She can’t find Todd.” My best friend Carol took my hand, squeezed it and said, “It’s OK. We’ll find him.”

It was 1975 in Lawton, Oklahoma, back when small towns were safe places and your next-door neighbor’s daughter was the beloved baby sitter, now standing in your driveway with tears running down her face.

It was a summer night, still light but getting dark fast. When we had left, we had placed our 1-year-old daughter in Vickie’s arms and told her that Todd, our 4-year-old, was next door playing with Harry, son of a sergeant and his wife, Norma.

Vickie had gone to get Todd for bath and bedtime, only to find out from Norma she thought the boys were at our house.

We looked everywhere in both houses. We called the police.

The two officers who responded were polite but generally unconcerned. “Check the closets, the garages, the laundry hampers. Sometimes kids play hide and seek; sometimes they fall asleep.”

Two hours later, the officers changed their attitudes. Three hours later, they called in back up.

Carol hugged me while our Army officer husbands developed battle plans a few steps away.

“Let’s go,” she whispered.

We headed down the hill where Todd’s elementary school stood in a dark that made it hard for me to breath. We tried every door. I called “Todd, Harry” until my throat seemed to seize up.

It was now after midnight. Carol and I stood on the playground and desperately scanned the large block. And then we saw the church. We looked at each other and something passed between us. We started to run, Carol to the back of the building where there was an exterior staircase. When she got to the top, she cried out, “Marion, it’s unlocked!”

Carol had turned on every light as she had run down the hall. “In here!” she called out when she heard my frantic footsteps.

And there was Carol, sitting in a child’s Sunday school chair, cradling my sleepy baby boy in her arms. Harry was sitting on the floor under the light switch that neither boy could reach, arms locked around his knees and eyes huge with fear behind his small glasses.

Todd looked up, ran to me and, as I lifted him, he said, “Mommy, where were you? I wanted Harry to see the balloons in the big store but I couldn’t find them. And then it got dark.”

We carried the boys up the hill, shouting, “We found them!”

And when we arrived at our driveways, my husband, Vickie, her parents, Carol’s husband took turns crying, hugging and kissing him, and telling him how happy they were he was home, that he was safe. And then I looked next door to see the sergeant spanking Harry, hard, as he yanked him up the walk while Norma, head down, followed them into the house.

 

 

 

 

 

filed under: