Every year the county fair fell around Elaine’s birthday making it the perfect birthday gift. Her friend Jack and his family would be joining Elaine and her parents this year. She would finally be able to share the collection of wonder and amazement that she loved so much. Perhaps she could even get her parents to try and get her a prize at one of the many carnival games – something her parents never seemed to give in to. Elaine salivated at the thought of the delicious food and rides as they danced in her head.
This year she read in the newspaper about a giant pumpkin that won grand prize; 1,260 pounds. It was hard to imagine how big that must be and Elaine was very excited to see it, moving it to the top of her ‘must see list’. She loved the animals, dog shows and frozen bananas which for some reason always tasted better in the crisp autumn air of the fair.
Sitting in her father’s minivan as they entered the gate she wore a grin from ear to ear as did Jack sitting next to her. They parked the van and she and Jack leaped out. Even from out here, the smell of French fries, fried dough and Italian sausage were overwhelming, instantly making Elaine hungry. Within two minutes, she convinced her parents to stop at the first few games – throwing darts at balloons and winning her a stuffed pig and some large fake dollar bills. She was having a blast!
Jack and his parents headed for the restroom, while she and her family made their way toward the giant pumpkin in the Fruits and Vegetable hall, weaving their way through the crowds of people. Elaine held her piggy in one hand and dollar bills in the other. Someone bumped into her and a few of the massive dollar bills fell out of her hand. She grabbed at them as they started to blow away. Elaine ran after it for about thirty feet and caught it, then stood up to rejoin her parents but they weren’t in front of her. They had not seen her stop and kept walking. Panic set in, she looked to the right, then to the left. Suddenly she felt very small, a little girl surrounded by a towering, moving mass of people. She dropped a dollar bill, she quickly grabbed it, she suddenly felt like it meant everything that she not lose what her mommy and daddy won her. She grabbed it and squeezed it and her stuffed piggy tightly, standing alone in the crowd as it ebbed and flowed around her in a frightening blaze. For a fleeting moment she saw her mother, then realized it was a woman with similar hair but not her mother. The woman looked at her and saw the fear in Elaine’s eyes, looked away and paused; tapping the man on the shoulder next to her she looked back again. She came back to Elaine and knelt down.
“Sweetie, are you lost?”
Elaine’s blue eyes filled with tears and she nodded, squeezing the pink stuffed animal tighter. She didn’t say anything to the woman because she was told to never talk to strangers, but she was so scared she didn’t know what to do.
“What’s your name?” the woman asked her.
“Elaine.” She replied, trembling.
“Elaine, I’m Julie, this is Nevin. Are you here with your parents?”
“Where did you see your parents last?”
She said nothing, though she wanted to tell them that she had seen them at the entrance to the building.
“It’s okay, we’ll help you find them.”
Elain began, “We were going to the giant pumpkin and then…” she looked around nervously.
“Julie, the lost children’s booth is just around the corner. Let’s take her over there.” Nevin said to the woman.
Julie looked at the small red head who was trembling, she put her hand gently on the girl’s shoulder.
“We’re going to help you find your parents. Okay?”
Elaine nodded, feeling the world spinning, her heart racing and uncertain.
Walking towards the lost children’s booth, Nevin spotted a police officer and walked over to him, explaining the situation. He looked down at Elaine and smiled, “Elaine, I’m Officer Tom. Your parents are looking for you. Will you come with me?”
Elaine squeezed Julie’s hand. Julie bent down, “It’s okay. He’s a policeman. He’ll help you find your mommy and daddy, okay?” and she softly passed Elaine’s hand over to Officer Tom.
The two walked to the lost children’s booth, but her parents weren’t there. For thirty minutes she sat at a small chair at a table, playing with a puzzle with her right hand, gripping piggy tightly with her left hand. She tried to act like she wasn’t scared, but the fear was overpowering. Officer Tom talked to her and told her about his own little boy. “I remember a time when I lost my son when he was three. We were at a really big store that sold coats. He was really scared, but we were scared too. You’re parents already checked in here and they went back to go see if they could find you. They’ll be back soon.”
Finally, her father showed up at the door to the booth and the police officer greeted him. “She was found over near the entrance to the picnic area.”
“Oh god Elaine! We were so scared!” He bent down and hugged her tightly. She wrapped her arms and legs around her father and for the first time let go of the piggy and started to cry, relieved to have found her parents.