I must have looked lost, too.
“Can you find my dad?”
A little boy was standing there, calmly asking me. I felt like I was 10 feet tall, he was that small.
His urgent appeal snapped me out of my own search. I was standing just off the busy path at the farmers market at PSU – I was looking for my wife. He must have sensed that.
Just the moment before I’m observing the crowd – some sitting eating, others hustling by, while others stop, exclaim hellos and embrace friends. This sight pains me just a little, I’m feeling lonely because even after a year in Portland I know there’ll be no warm greetings from surprised friends. I think the same thought that I had last week – that if I was at a farmers market in SE I’d be bumping into lots of people I know. These thoughts are extinguished immediately as I take stock of this little lost boy.
“Wait here with me,” I suggest cooly, not wanting to scare him off. “He’s looking for you, too.”
He takes a step away, but then returns. He’s got his hands full – a brown paper bag in one and a slim bag of popcorn in the other. As I take stock of my new friend I’m trying my next attempt to make conversation. “What’s your dad’s name? What does your mom call him?” He has no idea. Wrong question I realize and what if there isn’t a mommy?
“What’s your dad look like?” I say with a smile knowing my interrogation skills are getting better quickly, “Does he have brown hair or blue?” And as soon as these words leave my mouth I realize I’ve flubbed it again. It is Portland, so dad could have blue hair I suppose, “Blond hair is what I meant.” He thought that was funny, but I know the answer to this question immediately, too, because this little guy has a mop of brown hair and beautiful dark brown eyes.
“What’s your name?” He mumbles and I’m too tall and he’s so little, I can’t understand. Finally, “How old are you?” He looks down at his hands as I do, too. He lifts first two then three fingers off the popcorn bag. We’re communicating.
Back to studying his appearance, “Are you from Canada?” His jacket says so, but he wags his head no. The question gets him thinking about what’s in his pockets. He’s chattering as he pulls out a little toy figurine and hands it to me. Is it half human, half dog? I quickly discover you can snap-click the head to left, right and center. I hand it back with the head centered, hoping he won’t mind. He’s got another toy from the other pocket to exchange. After thoughtful consideration of this second sharing of toys, I hand it back. We’re connecting and he’s not going to wander a way. I look up to scan the crowd, looking for a lost dad.
But it’s a mom that makes eye contact, from 20 feet away. I know in an instant who she’s looking for. Dad’s there, too, with a younger brother in his arms. They’re frantic, relieved. Mom is looking at me…
“He just wandered away. We turned and he was gone.” I smile, trying to make light of the situation, “It’s never happened to me.” She smiles back. I’m trying to remember that time in Canada when our youngest was separated from us for about half an hour. “We lost our son in Quebec,” but that story will have to wait. They’re shuffling away; she’s half-heartedly scolding, “Bennett, you’ve got to stay together!”
“It was only for a couple of minutes,” I offer in his defense, but they’re gone.
My wife appears seconds later, “You missed all the excitement.” I summarize.
It’s a coincidence for her as she lost her favorite shopping bag, set it down somewhere. “Let’s go look,” but she already has. I insist thinking that I’m pretty good at finding things right about now. She relents and we retrace her steps. As is often the case, I’m a step or two behind her, the crowd is thick and I don’t know where she’s been. I’m feeling overwhelmed, like I know how that family is feeling right now. My eyes water up and I’m overcome. I feel connected in a powerful way.
Of course she finds her lost bag. I catch up right as she places her hand on it.
I’m happy to have helped this lost little boy. I picture Bennett in his dad’s arms, “That man was weird; he thought you had blue hair.”