Thursday, October 4, 2012

Heartbreak on Franklin Street

This is the true story of how Little Duck spent his day.  It may end up being more of a novella. But stick with me, its worth reading to the end. I promise.

First of all, you know Little Duck, right?  Elijah's best friend in the universe.  He's a small, yellow(ish) beanie baby duck which he loves with all his heart.  In fact, to say Elijah loves L.D. is kind of an understatement.  I know for a fact that if anything were ever to happen to him, Elijah would be devastated beyond comprehension.

So this is the week of Evansville's annual Fall Festival on Franklin Street.  It's a week-long grease-fest, which just so happens to take place exactly 3 feet from my office door.  Needless to say we partake.  Elijah had literally been counting down the days until the start of the Fall Festival with a calendar on the fridge.  This is a HUGE happening in his world.  And of course, the highlight of his week is the day he gets to have a bracelet for unlimited rides for an entire day.  This year was even more exciting because he's now tall enough (44.5 inches!) to ride every ride except one!  It was decided that today (Thursday) would be ride day.

So this morning after my morning Bible Study group, we headed down to Franklin St. with a bounce in our step, ready to ride kiddie rides until we dropped.  Before we left the house we had a discussion that went like this:
E: Mom, I really want to bring Little Duck to church to show him to Ivy since she always brings her bunny with her.
Me: Honey, that's really not a good idea. What if you lose Little Duck?
E: I would NEVER lose Little Duck!  I love him!  Please, Mom?
Me: Now Elijah, this is a big responsibility. If you take him you have to make sure you don't leave him anywhere.
E: I know!  And besides, Little Duck really wants to ride the Fall Festival rides with me!  It will be so much fun for him!
Me: Alright.  But if you lose him at the Fall Festival, you will probably never see him again.  It's very crowded in the park. There are lots of kids, and you really don't want anything bad to happen to Little Duck.
E: I won't!  He's just going to ride the rides with me!  And I'll put him in my pocket if I need to.
Me: Ok, you may bring him, but I really don't think this is a good idea.
E: Trust me, Mom.
We arrived to the kiddie park 30 minutes before the rides opened.  The half hour wait was excruciating.  We occupied ourselves by getting a snack (deep fried cheese sticks and a Dr. Pepper) and strolling up and down the festival route watching all the other crazy moms and dads with their broods of excited cotton-candy buzzed children.  At 12 o'clock on the DOT we stood in line, got his ride bracelet, and point-zero-five seconds later he was bolting across the street to stand in line for his first ride.

For the first two hours we made our way methodically around the park, selecting which ride would be next on the basis of either how long the line was, or its level of awesomeness, on a scale of who-knows-what.  He and Little Duck did the obstacle course, like, 24 times in a row, (maybe I exaggerate), the spinning bears, then airplanes, then carousel (which makes me want to barf just watching it), then the train (twice), then old fashioned cars, then swings, then a couple other spinny-around things, then fun house (4 times), then the frogger, then the giant slide (twice), then bumper cars, then the cars again, obstacle course again, and train again.  Then I was exhausted and requested a water and potty break.  It was hot that afternoon.  I was in such a hurry to get back to the air-conditioned office (bathroom) that I didn't notice Little Duck's absence from his usual place under Elijah's arm. (duh, duh, duhhhh....)

We cooled off, had drinks, I ate a corn-on-the-cob, Elijah ate a chicken ka-bob, and we met up with Grandma Debby and Zeke.  After a short recoup the 4 of us decided to make another go of the park.  This time Elijah and Zeke went on the train together. It was Zeke's first time!  He LOVED it. No, loved isn't a strong enough word for how Zeke felt about the train. Tantrum would be more accurate. Well, that's what happened when it was time to get off the train. Naturally it was one of my poudest mom moments. In fact, if you look closely at the image below (go ahead and scroll down if you want) you can see the beginnings of the melt-down. That photo was taken just after the train came to a stop.

So, we proceeded to the "big" park where the three of us rode the ferris wheel. (Fun!) Then Grandma Debby took Elijah on all the rides again, and a few of them more than once while I took Zeke on a walk and got him a snack. Then it was round three for me... I took Elijah on every ride AGAIN while pushing Zeke around in the stroller in the shadeless heat.  Zeke was not a fan of this and started to voice his protest. So, to cap off the afternoon, they both went on the train together again.
I was like the walking dead after 5 hours in that dang kiddie park, on my feet, in the heat. 

However, since I am an awesome mom, before we called it a day we stopped off at a booth and picked up a couple of bags of cotton candy (yellow for Elijah).  Also, and I will not swear to this, but that cotton candy may have been used as bribery to leave the park.  Zeke fell asleep on the drive home, sticky blue remnants covering his hands, face, and clothes.  I would have fallen asleep too if somone would have offered to operate my car.

Now comes the part of this novella where I just randomly insert lots more pictures. Becaue they don't really fit the story.  So here is what Elijah's fun day was looking like...  Please make special note of the fact that Little Duck appears in nearly every photo either beside Elijah, under his armpit, or in his hands.  It would be fair to say that Little Duck enjoyed this ride day at the Fall Festival as much, if not more, than Elijah did.
Little Duck was not allowed to ride the Fun Slide as it required two hands to hold the burlap sack.
In stead, Little Duck and I watched and cheered from the bottom.
Little Duck sits beside Elijah in the spin-around ride, above.
You can't see him here, but Little Duck is buckled in next to Elijah in the bumper car.
Little Duck got to ding the train bell too!
Thank goodness for seatbelts or I would have been concerned for L.D.'s safety.
He was brave on the swings and even flew along beside Elijah.

Ok, so now you get the picture. Little Duck rode nearly every ride with Elijah and he too was having a great time.  But.... BUT something went terribly wrong.

Once at home, the boys and I sat down for some dinner (I picked up pizza on the way! Mom of the year?).  While we were eating and chatting away about all the fun things that we did, it hit me - a sense of dread - and I realized Little Duck wasn't sitting at his normal place next to Elijah at the table.
"Elijah? Where is Little Duck?" I asked.  A long, tense pause. "I... uh... I don't know. Maybe he's in the car?" he said, but I could hear the quiver in his voice. He knew what I knew, we hadn't seen Little Duck since we left the Fall Festival.  So I went and checked every square inch of the car.  I returned with bad news. No Little Duck. 

"Think sweetie. Did you have him when you got in the car? Remember you were holding your cotton candy and that balloon?"  That's when the panic started.  "Oh! Noooooo! Mom, I don't remember. I don't think so."  At this point Elijah literally began wailing.  I might have said a few words about being a responsible Duck owner, his promise NOT to let anything happen to L.D., and the fact that I had told him this morning it wasn't a good idea. Obviously, he agreed with me and was repentant. But none of that helped.  At that moment all we could think about is HOW could we get Little Duck home.  My mind was racing through the thousands of places he could have gone, thoughts of how to get him back, if that was even possible, and how I could console Elijah when the inevitable outcome happened. 

We all cried. All three of us. We sat there at that kitchen table and boo-hoo'd our faces off.  Zeke was clueless but offered up sympathetic tears, Elijah could barely speak or even breath, and I was just heart-broken for my sweet boy to have lost his best friend in the whole world.  It was a traumatic scene to be sure.  Elijah finally spoke up with renewed confidence, "Mom, we need to pray for Little Duck. God knows where he is and He can help you find him."  So we bowed our heads, joined hands, and Elijah led us in a prayer, "Dear God. Since you know where Little Duck is can you help Mom find him? Amen."  As Zeke echoed "ah-en" I decided to go.

I had no plan but I knew I couldn't sit there at home and mourn Little Duck without giving my best effort to recover him. So I grabbed my keys left our pizza to turn cold on the table, and away we dashed without even putting shoes on the boys. It was nearly 6:00 pm and the sky was blazing with a pink sunset as we sped to my parent's house. I knew I couldn't battle the festival crowd with both of them in tow. So as I drove, I tried calling both of them with no answer. I tried and tried again. Of all the times not to answer!  I was desperate so I went there to drop the boys off anyway. Thankfully when we got there my Dad was in the back yard and was able to keep and eye on the boys while I went on my L.D. Extraction mission. 

I drove like a banshee back down to Franklin Street, where I KNEW I would never, ever, in a million years find a parking place at 6:30 in the evening, on a beautiful night, when every inhabitant of Evansville was packing into to that 5-block-strip of town.  So I prayed earnestly for a parking spot.  And I prayed for God to show mercy to Elijah (and me) and help me locate the lost best friend.  My heart was pounding and I was in a nervous sweat by the time I made my way through the streams of pedestrians to the place where I had been parked before.  My only hope was that the spot I had vacated two hours earlier was still open. That chance was minuscule, but I tried anyway.  And unbelievably, it was still open! 

A rush of adrenaline empowered me then to elbow my way through the crowd, running to my office, trying to beat the sunset.  By my estimation, I had last seen Little Duck right before we left the park the first time. So I had hoped he would be in the office. Maybe Elijah had left him in the bathroom when we stopped in for a break?  A thorough search revealed nothing. Next I retraced our steps from the back entrance of the office to the kiddie park.  I carefully scanned the ground, every trashcan, dumpster, and filthy corner of that alley on my way there. Still nothing. My next idea was to ask the ride operator of the train (the last ride he went on before the mid-day break) if anyone had recovered a ratty, yellow duck. No one had.  But the ride operators had changed since then.  So I spotted a group of carnival workers nearby and was lucky enough to find one who spoke English. I inquired. They laughed and told me "good luck, as if anyone would ever find a little toy in this madness! Besides, 10 thousand children have probably walked through the park since then. Someone probably picked him up. Or mistook him for a carnival prize and threw him in the trash."  My heart sank, acknowledging the truth of that statement. Deep down I knew it was impossible to find him but I didn't want to believe it.  But in the midst of the heavily crowded park, littered with trash and packed with small excited bodies, I knew it was probably a lost cause. 

I fought back the tears and racked my brain because I wasn't giving up without a fight.  I decided to look for the ride worker who was operating the train when Little Duck rode it. He was across the lot and didn't have any recollection of a duck being left in one of the train cars. Bummer.  But he recommended that I check the carnival ride lost and found booth. By now it was dark and things were moving from uncomfortably crowded into the realm of claustrophobic chaos.  Dodging strollers, I ran to the place where he pointed. The booth worker told me that no one had turned in any toys at all today, but why not try the Nut Club lost and found booth.  So I headed for my destination, 2 blocks away, as fast as a person could bob and weave between festival-goers with hands full of fried and sticky goods.  The sympathetic Nut-Clubber in the booth informed me there were no ducks, but how about this green dinosaur?  Was he kidding?  If it were so easy to replace our beloved Little Duck I wouldn't have gone through all this grief!  I think he saw the tears welling up in my eyes as I declined his offer because he said hopefully that he would take my phone # and call me if anyone turned Little Duck in later and please try back tomorrow.  I knew as well as he did that no one would turn him in.  I hung my head and walked away.

I was totally defeated.  A lump was forming in my throat but I still didn't want to give up.  My feet were taking me in the direction of my car when a picture of my little boy hearing the news of a lost forever Little Duck came to me.  I said another prayer and made the decision to walk back to the kiddie park to give it one final look before heading home.

This time I decided to start on one end of the park and search literally every single ride, game, trashcan, bench, and booth - in, around, under, and sideways. It proved to be much more difficult than I thought since the only light was coming in flashes from nearby rides and carnival booths. I must have looked crazy the way I stuck my head under benches and tables as I made my way through- eyes always on the ground.

And then, in what felt like slow motion (maybe it was the strobe lights from the swings that go round and round) a miracle happened on West Franklin Street. My eye caught a glimpse of yellow in that half second of flashing light. There on the platform where the ride operator pushes buttons and pulls levers I saw the yellow again. It pulled me forward... running, pushing children aside, leaping over diaper bags and strollers, ignoring the looks from angry parents as I darted. And there he was. Little Duck sat, dirty and rejected looking, in front of the girl who ran the swings. When I was still 10 feet away, I shouted to her above the noise "That duuuuuckkkk! THAT DUCK! Oh my gosh! THAT'S MY SON'S LITTLE DUCK!" Now pushing between children to get closer to her, "Oh my gosh! Can I have that duck? I can't believe it! That's my little boy's duck!" Her expression changed from annoyed to kind when she realized I was pointing to him. "Oh this? I found him behind some boxes over there. I thought someone would probably miss him, so I put him here in case anyone came to look." I had to resist the urge to hug her as she passed Little Duck to me. "I cannot thank you enough for doing that! I could never tell you how much this will mean to him. You have saved a 5-year-old boy from a lot of heartache", I squeaked out between tears.
And then I walked back to my car, sobbing uncontrollably and hugging a filthy yellow beanie baby to my chest. Little Duck had been saved. God saw a little boy's faith and heard his prayer. "Dear God. Since you know where Little Duck is can you help Mom find him?". It was a miracle. Truly.
And for the record, Little Duck will NEVER be allowed to go to the Fall Festival again.


Anonymous said...

I am setting here with tears running down my cheek. I even already knew Little Duck had been found but the details tugged my heart strings. Thanks for sharing, Tara Clem

Jacob Jost said...

This is by far the greatest story ever! You should write " Missing at the Fall Festival" by Little Duck :) That way Elijah will know what L.D. Was doing that whole time.