When I was a little girl, I got lost a lot. I remember getting lost at the beach and lost in the museum. I was never afraid when I was lost, because I never knew I was lost.
I got lost at the beach when I was really little. I just kept walking along the beach, playing with different kids. Once my foot got stuck down in the sand and a wave came along and pushed me under. I blew the water out in big bubbles and looked around at the seaweed. I guess I can swim now, I thought. Nobody I played with could swim yet; I was first to learn. A lady picked me up and asked me if I was lost.
“No.” I said. She smelled just like shredded coconut and baby oil.
“Where’s your Mommy and Daddy?” said the lady who picked me up. She had on a black bathing suit with lots of skin up front on view and her bowls were great-big, giant bowls, just coming right out of the front of her bathing suit. I never saw anything like that on any of the ladies I knew, not my friends’ mothers, nobody at church, not Mom, for sure, not Mom. This was before I went to school, otherwise, maybe Mrs. Brown, my kindergarten teacher had bowls that big, but hers were hanging way down, not like this lady, who’s bowls were pushed together and just bursting out like a big, pink, bare butt sitting up there in front.
I didn’t say anything, ’cause I was trying to figure out the whole big-bowls thing, so this nice lady took me for some ice cream. I told the policeman at the ice cream place I guessed Mom and Dad were lost by now, and so was Deanna and Bonita. I thought we could look later, after the ice cream was gone; if I got distracted and let the ice cream drip, the Policeman would probably want to ‘clean it up’ the way Dad did, and next thing I knew, half the ice cream would be gone. Pretty soon Mom showed up and squeezed me really hard. I never wished before that she would let go, but this time she squeezed so hard, it kind of hurt.
I was a little older when I got left in the Museum of Science and Industry. I wasn’t lost that time either, everybody just left me. Mom and Deanna and Grandma and Grandpa went to Chicago to visit Mom’s cousin Irene, and that’s how we ended up in the Museum. Irene was always thinking up fun stuff for people from the farm to do when we got to the big city of Chicago. Her house smelled like cooked green peppers and beef; I never had that at home, but the meat was in tinsy-tiny pieces like Mom cooked the pork for sauerkraut; that’s the only thing we had that was even close, and the smell was nothing near to sauerkraut.
Irene’s kids, Pat, Jo, Marilyn, Chip and two little kids I never remembered, did fun stuff at home too, like play poker and jump all over the neighborhood on pogo sticks. We had a pogo stick, but we just had jumping contests on it, ’cause for one thing, we only had one pogo stick, and for another thing, we couldn’t go very far jumping along the shoulder of the road all gravely and with lots of ruts. Irene’s kids had work to do, but not so much as we did, ’cause all six kids lived in a house about half as big as mine, and they hardly had any yard at all and no animals to feed, except a tiny dog that ate food out of a can. So they had lots of time to sit around getting good at poker and after that they practiced hopping down the sidewalk to their friends’ houses to play more poker.
At the Museum I saw a whole bunch of babies in jars; the labels said the babies were from mothers at different weeks of pregnancy. I never saw anything like it; it was just like seeing inside Mom’s tummy, ’cause she was always expecting a baby, and I could kinda imagine getting to know a baby like that from the inside out. It was good that the baby stayed in there awhile getting ready to come out, ’cause I had to use my imagination a lot to figure out where everything was on those babies, some hardly looked like babies at all, and they didn’t even get near cute ’til pretty close to the end.
A little over from the babies, I found a bunch of pictures of appendicitis surgeries. That was neat-o too, ’cause Dad had his appendicitis out during the war; he showed me his scar once and told me that was the only wound he had from the war; the army gave him a purple heart for it. That might have been a story; hearts are supposed to be red. Anyway, I thought it was really interesting just how little the appendix is inside of there, and it’s always causing people trouble, and making them get rushed to the hospital and almost dying and other exciting stuff.
That’s right where Grandpa and Mom found me. They told me I was lost, and they’d been all afternoon going through the museum looking for me, and here I was still on the first floor, right where they started, and now it was time to go back to Irene’s house. Grandpa whispered that he would bring me back some other time and we could stay until I saw everything.
Mom got her no-nonsense look on; she said I shouldn’t go wandering around on my own, anything could happen to a little girl in a crowded place like a museum. I said she was just like Mary, the mother of Jesus, worrying about her kid when he was right where she left him. She let out her breath really slow, and pressed her lips together in a straight line so tight they almost disappeared. Grandpa coughed hard up in the front seat of Irene’s car.
I often think about those trips and other times when I seemed lost, when I was just enjoying where I was at. I love that story of the child Jesus, looking up in surprise when he realized his parents were searching for him, while he was right where he belonged. We are all compelled to seek out who we were made to be, and sometimes that means having a lot of faith and sometimes it means holding on just tight enough to let go at the right time.