When I was about four years old, Mother took my brother and me on a little vacation to Hot Springs. There was a lot to do and see: the alligator farm, educated chickens and rabbits doing tricks, having your picture made on a taxidermied bucking bronco (I still have that old brown-tone photo) and walking the main street looking in store windows.
This latter activity got me briefly lost on our second day there. Like many children, I got so absorbed in looking at stuff in windows--electric trains, pocket knives, fake snakes, fake dog poop, etc.--that I didn’t notice when my Mother and brother went into a cafe. I was standing there slack-jawed, gazing into a variety store window. When I came out of my reverie, I suddenly realized I was lost in a strange town a long way from home. My panic was deep and paralyzing. I didn’t know what to do. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to hear Curtis say, “Danny, come on, we’re fixing to eat here.” At that lunch, I felt like the prodigal, returned to feast with my family.
The second time I remember getting lost was at the county fair when I was about seven. My older brother, older cousin and I were going through the so-called “fun house” together. It was fun at first: skeletons would jump out at us, spotlights would focus on spiders and snakes in the nooks and crannies and weird moans and groans would accompany intermittent zombie appearances. But it was not fun when I got separated from the others and found myself lost in a dark chamber from which I could find no escape. I pushed on every wall in the darkness and kept going round and round until that old Hot Springs panic set in and I began to yell. At last, my cousin’s hand grasped my shoulder and he said, “This way.”
The next time I had that Hot Springs feeling was when I was serving in Germany. I went to Koblenz, about an hour from my base, with some people I didn’t know very well on a Sunday afternoon. We got separated late that night and I had no idea how I was going to get back for work Monday morning. AWOL is a serious crime and I knew I was in deep guacamole. I spent the night in an abandoned BMW on a side street and at first light I found a German telephone. At 7:30 a.m., when I knew Sergeant McDonald would be at his phone, I dropped marks and phennings into the Germanic apparatus. My German was poor, but I made the operator understand I wanted Flugplatz Hahn (my base). I got connected to Sergeant Mac and he said, “I tell you what, Ford, if you get here by noon I won’t turn you in AWOL.”
On the highway, the first thumb I put up got a response from a Lutheran preacher in a new Mercedes. His English was better than mine and he got me to the back gate of Hahn by mid-morning. He also talked to me about spiritual things I had been neglecting and I silently repented. I’ve been lost, but now I’m found. I’d like to stay that way.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.