For my McCarthy cousins
I was 7 years old when my favorite aunt invited me to join her on a shopping excursion to the new mall. My aunt is much younger than my mother, and in my eyes, she was the coolest person on the planet. Besides, malls had escalators. That’s all I needed to know.
Aunt Mary and I drove the eight miles to the Peabody Shopping Center. I was bursting with excitement as we made our way into a large multilevel department store. Before long, however, I grew bored with my aunt’s shopping, so I asked if I could ride the nearby escalator. “Alright,” Aunt Mary agreed, “but just go up one floor, then turn around and come right back down. Do you understand?”
I nodded my head. “Up one floor and down one floor.”
Feeling like I’d been set loose in a candy shop, I raced to the escalator. I cautiously stepped onto it and was instantly transported to another world. Below me, everything appeared to be shrinking. I saw racks of sparkly dresses and funny mannequin people and ladies trying on lipstick. I even saw my reflection in the walls of the escalator. It was like an enchanted city.
By the time I arrived at the top, I had long forgotten my promise to come right back down. I continued up a second floor, then down one, up two, down four.
Then I remembered my promise to ride the escalator only one time. That’s okay, I thought in my simple 7-year-old mind. I can do that. So I rode up one floor, turned around and came down one floor. I fully expected to see my aunt awaiting me.
But my aunt wasn’t there. I went down another level. No Aunt Mary. Up one. Down one. I didn’t realize that I was going nowhere. So I did what any self-respecting 7-year-old would do. I stood in the middle of the sales floor and cried.
Before long, a little girl approached me and tugged on my dress. “Excuse me,” she said. “Why are you crying?”
“Excuse me,” she tried again. “Are you lost?”
I looked at her. And I cried.
“Mama, I think that girl might be lost,” she told her mother.
“Oh, sweetheart,” the mother crooned to me in her most soothing voice. “Are you lost?”
“Are you here with your Mom?”
Mother and daughter took me to the office where a nice woman launched into the same routine. “Hi there, sweetie. Are you lost?”
“What’s your name, little girl?” she pressed.
With no hope of gleaning information from me, the woman turned on the loud speaker. “Attention, shoppers. Will the owner of a little girl in a blue dress please come to the office to claim her?”
It wasn’t long before a worried Aunt Mary appeared at the office door. She offered profuse thanks to the mother, child and nice lady. Then we headed back to the sales floor.
“Where were you?” I asked between sobs.
“I was right here,” she replied. “Where were you?” And then it dawned on her. “Did you forget your promise to ride the escalator only one time?”
I dropped my head in shame. “Uh-huh,” I mumbled.
I suppose there’s a moral to the story but darned if I know what it is. Honestly, the only thing I learned is that the next time I get lost at a shopping mall, it’s probably not the best course of action to stand in the middle of the sales floor and cry.
But I’m still not sorry I rode the escalator more than one time.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.