It was a good year for a Peanut Festival. Sunny. Blue skies. A little chilly.
My wife and I walked rows of arts and crafts. We ate the kinds of food that give cardiologists panic attacks.
We listened to music that makes grown men thirsty for Budweiser products. We spent our money on junk we’ll never use. We rode rides we were too old for.
And I saw a girl.
Eight or nine years old, maybe. She was wandering. She had no adult with her. Her face looked worried.
I approached the girl and asked if she needed help.
She did not answer. She only took a step backward and started to run.
My wife squatted low and asked, “Honey, are you lost?”
She said, “I can’t find my mom.”
No sooner had the girl gotten words out than her face busted open. She soaked my wife’s shoulder.
It was enough to break a stainless steel heart.
My wife asked if the girl was hungry. She yes-ma’amed.
So, I offered the girl my bag of deep-fried peanuts.
The little girl made a face and said she didn’t care for peanuts. I informed her she was at the wrong festival. Then, I bought her a nine-dollar deep-fried Snickers bar.
My wife took the girl to get her face painted while I went to find an official-looking person for help.
I found a man in uniform and brought him to the girl.
The uniform asked the girl where she’d last seen her mother.
Then, we walked in circles, trying to find the places she remembered.
She held hands with my wife.
I had heard the girl say: “Can you hold my hand? I don’t wanna get lost again.”
We saw many things on our jaunt across the fairgrounds. Things you’d see at Anytown Festival USA. We saw young couples carrying oversized Panda bears. We saw families pushing strollers. Men in John Deere caps. Old women wearing country-music T-shirts, and perms.
The girl screamed. “Hey! I see my sister! There’s my mom!”
The girl dropped her nine-dollar Snickers-on-a-stick and ran toward a woman in cutoff shorts.
The woman sprinted toward the girl.
They embraced in a crowd. And it bears mention: I’ve seen a few nice things in my life. I’ve watched a sunrise on Cheaha Mountain, I’ve slept on a sailboat in the Gulf of Mexico, I’ve seen the place where Hank Williams learned to play guitar.
But few things could be finer than a mother-daughter reunion.
The woman hugged my wife, tight-eyed.
She said, “I thought the absolute WORST had happened to my baby.”
The lady offered to give my wife money. She flashed a wad of cash and told my wife to take it.
My wife swatted her away and told her not to be ridiculous.
The little girl gave me a final hug and said, “I was so scared, but I was praying SO hard, and I knew God wouldn’t let me down.”
That was a long time ago. I’m older than I was then. I haven’t been to a peanut festival in several years.
But I believe that little girl was right.