The mall was crowded. I was maybe 5 years old. And I was lost.
If you’ve ever been lost in the mall as a little boy you know true terror. I had somehow drifted from my mother. I had been distracted by—of all things—a magic show.
I am a middle-aged man now, but I can still remember the magician’s performance with startling clarity. He wore a polyester tux, bright red, with a pink Travolta shirt. One look at that tux and I left my mother’s side.
I stood among others my age in the meager audience watching his magic act. We were all wide eyed, smelling of little-kid sweat, with runny noses.
Then, suddenly the show was over and I was lost in a shopping mall with thousands of strangers moving all around me.
What was I supposed to do NOW? Should I go look for my mother? Should I stay put? Should I ask the guy in polyester tux to saw me in half? A kid’s brain doesn’t think logically.
So I went searching for my mother, which was the absolute worst thing I could have done because this only made me more lost. I wandered through shoe stores, clothing stores, Sears, and a candle store that smelled like a sickening mixture of pumpkin pie and Chanel No. 5.
Finally, mercifully, a tall man in a blue uniform with an eight-point cap and a golden badge found me. He said, “Are you lost?”
I began to cry.
He was an enormous policeman, nearly 14 feet tall. He squatted to my eye level. He smiled and said, “Where’re your parents?”
I cried even harder.
“Can you tell me your mom’s name?”
I tried to remember my mother’s name. But I was so scared that I couldn’t think of my mother’s Christian name. What WAS her first name? I usually just called her Mama or Ma’am. I upgraded from crying into hyperventilating.
“Now, now,” said the officer, resting a nine-pound hand on my shoulder. “Everything is gonna be just fine.”
The officer hoisted me into his huge arms, cradled me against his chest, and carried me across the mall among a sea of heads. And I felt safe.
During our walk, after I quit crying, I asked him the most pressing question my 5-year-old brain could think of. “Can I touch your badge?”
This amused the cop. “You can do more than that.” He unpinned his badge and fixed it to my little T-shirt.
This was the greatest thing to ever happen to me. A badge. I had never worn a real badge before. It was heavy. I had no idea that badges were so weighty. The thing nearly ripped my shirt clean off.
It was all so wonderful, I decided to press my luck. “Can I wear your hat?”
This really made the big man laugh. He said, “Well, just for a few seconds.” He removed his hat to reveal a mop of gray hair and placed it onto my head. There I was, riding through the mall with a badge and a peaked cap. This was shaping up to be a good day.
We arrived at the customer service desk where the cop set me down and talked with a grumpy lady behind the counter. Soon, the woman was using an intercom microphone to address all 2,129,434 shoppers in the mall. With a shrill voice she described a lost boy with red hair, hazel eyes, orange-soda mustache, and a NASCAR T-shirt that didn’t quite cover his belly.
Before she finished her announcement, the cop told the lady to let me use the intercom microphone. So the woman begrudgingly handed me the mic. The cop told me exactly what to say. I repeated it word for word:
“Mama, it’s me. I’m at the lost-and-found desk. I’m okay. Come get me. Over.”
The “over” part was all my idea.
And we waited. For the next several minutes, the gigantic policeman became my new best friend. He told jokes, stories, and kept me entertained.
I noticed a bowl of peanut M&Ms on the grumpy lady’s desk. I asked the woman if I could have some, but she said no, these peanut M&Ms were only for people who weren’t 5-year-old children.
But the policeman acted like he didn’t hear her and presented the bowl to me anyway. I was so excited I removed both fingers from my nostrils and grabbed two handfuls of M&Ms.
That’s when I saw my young mother, rushing through the sea of heads. Her hand was waving like she was trying to catch a bus. When she arrived her eyes were bloodshot. She thanked the officer profusely, but the large man didn’t seem to want thanks.
Before we left, it was time for me to give back his badge and hat. I returned them to the officer who fuzzed my hair and said, “See? I told you everything would be okay.”
And so yesterday, when I was leaving the grocery store and saw a uniformed man leading a small, lost child to the customer service desk, I couldn’t help but watch. Minutes later, when I saw a worried mother running to embrace the found child, I felt my heart swell until my ribs began to hurt.
Because even though I’m older now, I still remember that kind officer from long ago. I remember his massive shoulders, his enormous hands, and his immense size.
But then, I guess it takes a big person to carry a badge that heavy.
Tammy S. - February 28, 2021 10:15 am
Susan - February 28, 2021 11:26 am
What a great story!!
Pat De Loncker - February 28, 2021 11:27 am
Great story! You got me crying again!
Feel good tears
Everyone should take the time to thank a cop for being out there doing their job whenever we see one.
Kate - February 28, 2021 2:34 pm
turtlekid - February 28, 2021 11:42 am
Reminders of decades ago are good for our souls. Those traumatic scenes will never go away. My contentment now comes from FAITH.
Michael D. Milita - February 28, 2021 11:55 am
Thank God for caring people.
Bar - February 28, 2021 12:21 pm
You stories change me.
Ann - February 28, 2021 12:21 pm
Good morning chuckles and a heart that has swollen with joy and love ❤️
I have a grandson who is a deputy and can see him being this sweet… thank you Sean for a sweet Sunday beginning!
joan moore - February 28, 2021 1:09 pm
Aww Sean, now I have got tears in my coffee, but again, you have done YOUR magic!
joan moore - February 28, 2021 1:28 pm
Oh, a side note: my comments are timed about four hours from now, how funny is that!
Julie - February 28, 2021 1:39 pm
Yes indeed, “it takes a big person to carry a (golden) badge that heavy.” And God led “a 14 foot tall man in a 💙blue uniform💙with an eight-point cap and a 9 pound hand” to your rescue. Besides bringing a tear or two to my eyes, it reminds me that we should all do a better job of thanking our Safety Men and Women more often. They all earn and deserve our gratitude and respect each and every day! And, oh by the way…I hope the HR dept. of that Mall removed that “grump” from Customer Service! Shame on her for denying you M & M’s…and PEANUT ones, no less!!
Julie - February 28, 2021 1:44 pm
P.S. My comments are 6 hours from my time.
nebraskannie - February 28, 2021 1:50 pm
I can’t speak from the perspective of a child, but I lost my 2 year old daughter in an airport once. For two hours very kind people searched. She had crawled around the baggage claim and taken a nap. I’ve never forgotten the kindness showed that day. Yes, the badge is heavy, but I can never repay that kindness…BTW, she was always ornery! LOL
Alice Purim - February 28, 2021 1:59 pm
You write wonderfully. Your stories touch my heart. Thank you.
Martha Black - February 28, 2021 2:08 pm
Thank you for the reminder.
Kate - February 28, 2021 2:41 pm
Thank you Sean, it is a very heavy burden to carry a badge and I am so grateful there are those who are willing to do it. We lost a wonderful young man several years ago in our community who carried a badge. His death was so unnecessary, he was only doing “his duty” while someone else was being self centered and selfish by continuing to break a local ordinance. The young officer was simply issuing a warning and was killed because of it. He left behind a young wife and two young sons and a broken hearted community.
Jan - February 28, 2021 2:41 pm
I could feel the emotions and see the action unfolding … love, love, love your writing! Thank you, Sean.
Letty Luhman - February 28, 2021 2:47 pm
Hearts 💕 touched again!
Bob Brenner - February 28, 2021 4:08 pm
Well said Sean. To all of the police officers who help us when we get lost. Thank you,
Unknown or Deleted UserMA - February 28, 2021 5:04 pm
I love your stories, Sean! Reminds me of one day when I was at the grocery story. I heard over the intercom, ‘Would the mother of Heidi Ho please come to customer service for her daughter.” The little girl was a friend of my daughter’s and everyone called her Heidi Ho, because her last name was a mouthful, ending in …’witz’, and I doubt Heidi at that age even knew what it was. But Mom gathered her.
Stan H Womble - February 28, 2021 5:41 pm
Sean, I was 4 years old(1956) and with my Mom in the J.C. Penny store in Albany Ga. The store was two story and had an escalator which just fascinated me to no end. Mom was looking at dresses and I just had to touch that moving rubber hand rail. Well it just grabbed my hand and whisked me to the second floor before I could blink. I did not know how to get back down to the first floor and I tried going down the up stairs. At four years old I did not know you had to go around to the other side to go down. I was found crying with snot on my chin like you. The kind lady that found me took me to a sales desk and asked my name and my mom’s name. During that stage of my life I called my mom the same name my dad called her “Honey”. I remember that intercom page to this day “We have a lost little boy with no name, but his mother’s name is Honey”. I think I heard everybody in that store laugh. Thank you for bring back that memory. I thank all our 14 foot tall LEO’s for their dedication and service.
Patti - February 28, 2021 5:49 pm
What a clever idea – to have the child talk! Because every mom knows the voice of her offspring 💙
Christy Guenther Okie - February 28, 2021 5:53 pm
Sean, I have long thought that if I were a man, as well as the best version of myself, I’d be you. The things you write never fail to move me.
Also, today is my daughter’s eighth birthday. I remember turning eight. It was the year I knew what I wanted to do.
That’s the year I heard street violinist playing. I knew that I’d do anything to make people feel like that. My mom took a picture of me watching him. Recently, the photo came out of the frame and I saw what she had written on the back: “Christy stood there for forty-five minutes, with tears rolling down her face. She’s very sensitive.”
I bet you can relate.
After that, I practiced for hours a day, imagining myself on a grand stage where people would throw flowers and clap with gloved hands. And my family would make it, all because of me. We would get out of Army quarters and into a real house. And imagine the adulation. The compliments! In reality, performing made me want to vomit. But I kept going.
We moved a lot, though. After a while, I decided that music was my safe place. I stopped playing with other kids so that I could practice. By then I was playing piano as well.
I live in Scotland now and have landed well–for an accordion player. Yes, you heard right. Accordion is my main instrument now, in a place where people value their accordion players. In fact, some Scottish people have never heard a single accordion joke. I think it’s because box players carry an important part of the culture.
Yeah, I can’t believe my luck! In our tiny Highland town, there are at least three competition-winning accordion players–with websites and everything. Plus a bunch of other box players who are just the normal type of amazing. There are even regional styles of accordion. I can’t hear the difference between them yet, but when I play a local tune over on the east coast, they know right away that it’s a west-coast waltz. Apparently, it has a kind of “accent.” Isn’t that cool?
My accordion and I were on the train once. A woman told me that her uncle had been a famous accordion player and that her town had erected a statue of him in the town square. And everyone on the train had heard of him. I was embarrassed that I didn’t know. How could I call myself an accordion player? But they were kind. They got onto their phones and sent me tons of links, so that I could catch up. Then the woman invited me to come see the statue. She even offered to put me up when I did.
Sean, there are just good people here in Scotland. Like anywhere, I guess, but these are the ones I have fallen in love with. Sean, I hope you and your wife get the chance to visit Scotland someday. “Dinnae forget” to be proud to play accordion. And thank you for following your heart and making a difference.
Love to you and yours from an American accordion player in Scotland. And my hound dog.
Linda Moon - February 28, 2021 6:18 pm
It takes a big person to be the Mama of a lost boy. I can imagine what your Mama felt when you were away from her. My 5-year-old boy could’ve been lost in magic, but he waited ’til his teenage years to actually perform for an audience of two: Mama and Daddy. Parents and Police Officers protect little children who wander away. The Mall Police did their job well. And so did your Mama, Sean…..then and for other years to come. Police carry heavy badges. Mamas carry big and sometimes heavy hearts for their boys. Mamas can be heroes, too!
Lori Klein - February 28, 2021 6:37 pm
I got lost in Eastwood Mall in Birmingham as a little
girl. You’re right. I can still taste that fear. My policeman put me up on top of the lockers in the middle of the mall. I was at least 50 feet tall. I thought he put me there so I could look for my mama. Of course, he really put me there so my mama could find me. Which she did. Wonder why our mom’s eyes looked so red when they showed up? I’m just glad you and I aren’t still living at the mall, which is what I figured would be my fate until my mom showed up.
Tim House - February 28, 2021 8:01 pm
Great story. And well-deserved honor to good Policemen!
Dean - February 28, 2021 8:31 pm
There are a lot of good people around us it is a shame that the news is always telling us about the bad ones.
Our police deserve respect for what they do. Sure there is a few bad ones but the majority are decent people
Melanie - February 28, 2021 8:47 pm
Yes it does which is why I Back the Blue 💙🖤
Rebecca Souders - February 28, 2021 8:59 pm
Ever think about a red shirt? I can’t think that pink would be a good color for you, but I could be wrong. But red? Definitely.
You’ve resurrected every lost child memory in your readers’ heads. Thanks for helping us to feel safe once again.
Barbara Pope - February 28, 2021 10:01 pm
Yep, it takes a big big man to carry that badge!
Debbie g - February 28, 2021 10:16 pm
Beautiful happy ending story thankful
Pilgrim - March 1, 2021 12:06 am
Wow! What a closing!
Patricia - March 1, 2021 1:18 am
One of your best! Thanks
Suzi - March 1, 2021 2:11 am
“14 foot tall policeman”, “ removed both fingers fingers from my nostrils”-Love, Love, Love the visuals!!!
Harriet W - March 1, 2021 4:15 am
Sean I saw you and Jamie on a commercial today! Very cool. So is this story.
johnallenberry - March 1, 2021 6:00 am
These are the stories that we need more of. Thanks, Sean.
Sharon Kru - March 1, 2021 10:44 pm
What a wonderful story! Your visuals are amazingly clear and so heartwarming! I just love reading your columns!!! You truly make my day. May God continue to bless you and Jamie!!