Friday, April 8, 2011

The Time I Took Years off of my Parents' Lives

The following story is a bit sketchy in my memory.  I was about 11 years old and my memory isn't what it used to be.  However, it's something I'll never forget and I know my mom still thinks of it as one of the scariest times in her life.

It was the summer of '77ish.  We were headed to Myrtle Beach (?) with another family.  We had a little convoy going with our campers.  The first night, we stopped at a huge KOA in or near Virginia Beach.  The grown ups were getting the camps set up and my brother, sister, and I headed off to the playground to play.  My parents told us to memorize the street we were on so that we could find our way back.  (Side note:  these days, parents would never, ever send children to strange playgrounds to play by themselves, but this was the 70s and things were safer back then.)

My brother is 15 months older than I am.  My sister is 6 years younger than I.  I am the middle child and I had Middle Child Syndrome and really played it up most of the time....I still do, but only to irritate my brother.  ;)  We walked to the playground.  I'm not sure how far away from the campsite, I just know that we couldn't wait to get there and run off some energy.  I also remember that I was wearing a sundress.  I have no idea why I remember that random piece of information, except that I got embarrassed, which led to the follow turn of events.

We played for awhile, and then my brother decided it was time to get back.  He was the responsible one and always wore a watch.  I didn't want him bossing me around.  I can't remember if I fell or he pushed me and I fell, but I did fall and my dress flew up and my underwear was showing and I was so embarrassed.  There was no way in hell I was following him anywhere!  He told me that he and my sister were going back and I should go back too.  I was defiant and told him I was going back on my own.  Big mistake.  My sense of direction wasn't as developed as it is now.  (I now have my dad's sense of direction, which is a blessing.)

Sam and Margie left the playground and I was alone.  I decided to walk back to the campsite.  I went the wrong direction and started walking in circles.  It was getting dark.  I was tired, hungry, and scared.  But, I just knew that Sam would show up and rescue me.  He's rescued me before.  He's my big brother and loves me even if I'm a pain in the butt.  No one rescued me.  No one knew exactly where I was because *I* didn't even know where I was.  I just knew I was still in that HUGE campground looking for Rocking Horse Lane.  (again with the random memory thing.)

I did a very scary thing.  I talked to strangers!  My parents drilled it into my head to NEVER, EVER talk to strangers, but I had no choice.  I saw a group of people at a pay phone.  Some people were using the phone and some were waiting in line for the phone.  I walked up to a very nice, clean cut couple and started crying.  I said, "Can you help me find Rocking Horse Lane?"  They looked at me and started talking in French.  I started crying harder.  Another sweet couple said, "Are you lost, sweetie?"  I cried harder.  They got a map of the camp ground and I told them the name of the street where we were camping.

The man of the couple went to get a flashlight and we took off to find my parents.  I was a mess.  I didn't even think they would do anything bad to me.  I was lucky that night.  When we turned the corner of our street and came to our campsite, Helen, the woman who was camping with us, jumped up and yelled, "She's here!  She's here!"  and she gave me the biggest hug.  I felt so safe for the first time in hours.  My mom and dad came running up the road and I remember the look on my mom's face....relief.  She yelled my name and gave me a hug.  My dad's face registered relief and a bit of anger, but he was scared.

Later, my mom told me that all she could think of was some crazy people taking me away and never seeing me again.  As a parent, I 'get' it.  That had to be the longest evening of their lives.

My brother and sister hugged me, then Sam hit me and called me an idiot and told me that I needed to listen to him from now on. 

The next morning, we broke camp and headed off to Myrtle Beach.  I never ventured far from the camp.  I didn't trust myself to be able to find my way back.  I knew that the next time (there never was a 'next time', thankfully) I may not have been as lucky.


pamela said...

Wow, Dawn. I don't remember hearing about that. Sure glad those people were good 'cause I luv ya. Aunt Pam

Marjorie said...

Whoa, Sis! I remember that...even though I was probably 5 or 6. I have had random memories of this event without understanding what it was until I read this. Dad was wearing a white t-shirt. Everyone was agitated and had flashlights. Everyone was yelling your name. Scary! Don't ya know we should ALWAYS listen to Sam?! ; )