It took two summers for my elderly neighbor, Ann, to warm up to us. It was Carson that broke the ice. Since we had moved in, Ann had exchanged pleasantries with us, but I think she viewed us as kids playing house. We had not really improved our property, nor had we mastered taking care of our yard. Ann, on the other hand, kept a meticulous lawn and she had beautiful flowerbeds. I worried she saw us as the type of people who brought housing values down.
One afternoon, Carson and I were in the yard and I was truly trying to improve its aesthetic quality. I was digging weeds when I realized Carson had shuffled into Ann’s yard where she was watering.
Carson caught her attention. “You make pretty flowers.” She was pointing at the tulips.
Ann hesitated. A small smile crept onto her lips. She turned off her hose, leaned down, and hugged Carson. Carson hugged back. At the time, she was three.
One evening later that summer, Ann and I were sitting on lawn chairs in her backyard. We were watching Carson ride her tricycle in circles. I happened to mention that I needed to go to Marc’s.
“Me, too,” she agreed. “But I will go later in the week.”
I assessed her situation rather quickly. For Ann to get to Marc’s one of two things had to happen: either her daughter would have to make a special trip from Rocky River to drive her or she would have to take the bus. Neither seemed acceptable to me. I was going to the store anyways; Ann could easily come along. Upon suggesting this idea to her, she immediately turned me down. It took a little goading before she was convinced that I truly wanted her company and that I was not offering just to be nice. We agreed to meet in my driveway at 9:30 AM.
The next morning, strapping Carson into her car seat, I saw Ann come across her backyard. To be honest, she looked beautiful. I was used to seeing her with dirt on her hands and a scarf protecting her head. I suddenly realized that going to Marc’s was an outing for Ann, and she had decided to dress the part: her close-cropped hair was neatly styled; she had put on some blush and lipstick; and she was dressed in a pretty floral top and slacks.
When we got to Marc’s I was quick to grab a cart. I tried to get Carson to sit, but she had a mind of her own. At three years old, she thought she was a big girl, and she wanted to walk with Ann and me. Reluctantly I yielded, although I knew it would be easier to manage my list and my coupons.
Ann said, “When I finish, I will sit on the park bench and wait.” She pointed to a seat by the door.
I looked at the extensive list in my hand. I felt a little guilty. It never crossed my mind that she was shopping for one and I was shopping for a family. “If you want,” I started, “I can just shop with you and then come back later.”
“That’s silly.” Her voice was firm. “When I finish I sit.” She gently patted my arm. Her strong voice made my guilt fade.
We spent the first three aisles moving together. However, as I was examining coupons in the aisle we were in, Ann was working her way to the next row. She was toward the end of the aisle when Carson realized we would not be spending the entire time together.
“Mommy!” She tugged at my shirt. “Can I go with Ann?” Her eyes were begging. If I said no, there was a chance she would immediately burst into tears and cause a scene. If I said yes, I worried that Ann would think I was pawning her off. “Please, Mommy.” She tugged a little harder. “Please.” Ann was turning the corner, but she was not out of sight.
“Okay, Honey.” I was already pushing her to move. “You go catch up with Ann. I will meet you in the next aisle.”
I continued shopping leisurely. I was enamored with the relationship Carson was developing with Ann. They truly liked to be together. I could only imagine the conversation they were having.
Five minutes and about two aisles later, I caught up with Ann. Immediately, I realized Carson was not with her.
“Where’s Carson?” Panic was setting in.
She looked bewildered at best. “She is with you, no?”
“No!” I scanned left. I scanned right. Carson was not in the aisle. Without thinking, I abandoned my cart to look for her.
She’s here. I told myself. She’s here.
I looked down aisle four: Nothing.
“Carson,” I said her name kind of sing-songy. If she was in earshot, I did not want her to panic.
Oh my God! What if she is not here? What if someone nabbed her?
I looked down aisle three: Nothing.
“Carson!” This time I yelled. I caught a few shoppers attention. I imagine they could see that I was visibly upset.
Aisle Two: Nope.
Are there security cameras?
What kind of mother am I?
“Carson!” This time, I think half the store heard me. “Carson!”
My pace quickened. I had covered the entire store and had not found her. I was suddenly running, screaming her name. “Carson!” I could feel a panic come over the customers. People realized that I was young and probably a mother. I could see random customers and employees starting to look for a child, too.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the store intercom system broke in. “There is a young lady….”
Please God. Please God.
“… at Customer Service looking for…”
Please let it be her.
I ran to the counter. She was not upset. She was not crying. I saw her, grabbed her, and engulfed her in my arms.
Annoyed, she wiggled out of my hold. “I can’t find Ann anywhere.” She looked past me and saw her. Her face lit up as she pointed: “There she is!”