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Ode: Joanne Fox Loses Her Cubs

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"Wherever you go, there you are” is an inescapable truth for my third son.

For me, a better maxim might be, “What you don’t know, can’t hurt you.”

Because he was always on the go, we often thought Eric was part gypsy.

Well, except for his coloring.

When he was born, Eric resembled an albino with bright, blue eyes and white-blonde hair. I even nicknamed him “Bino Baby.” What a difference he was from the brown hair, brown eyes of myself and his two older brothers, only sharing my husband Dean’s dark blonde hair and blue eyes.

Eric’s gypsy lifestyle surfaced early. At age 3, he was fearless in investigating the picnic area at Brown’s Lake, giving no thought to where his brothers or parents or anyone of our friends might be.

The shelter where we were holding a picnic was between two playground areas. Most of the time, if we looked out one door and didn’t see Eric, we could turn 180 degrees and he would be cavorting at the other play area.

I must confess I tired of constantly second-guessing which playground Eric was at and after most of the afternoon of whipping my head back and forth, decided he was safe in his wanderings between the two areas.

That was a mistake.

I was not initially alarmed when I did not see Eric at either play area. I assumed he must be going around the shelter rather than through it. One lap around the building and I discovered he was not in sight. Panicked, I found my husband and told the others that Eric was missing.

The yelling of his name commenced, but no one thought the worst. After all, how difficult would it be to find a 3-year-old whose white hair was like a beacon?

Suddenly, though, the daylight slipped away and Eric was still not found. I made my way down to the lake’s shore and became so physically nauseated, I thought I would vomit. I feared Eric became inquisitive about the vast expanse of water and wandered in. It took all my self-control not to throw up.

But Eric was not there and I made my way back up the hill to the shelter, heartbroken that I had not been vigilant in watching over my Bino Baby. I prayed to God, the Blessed Virgin Mary and every saint I could think of to help me.

Imagine my joy when Dean and one of our friends came walking toward the shelter with Eric. Dean found him across the road from the shelter, at a campsite, sitting on a woman’s lap surrounded by folks singing Mexican songs and toasting marshmallows. Eric’s new friends thought he was delightful, even though he spoke no Spanish and very little English; however, they did feel badly in assuming he wasn’t a nearby camper.

I didn’t have the heart to scold or yell at Eric. I was just too relieved he was alive, but the sick-to-my-stomach feeling lingered into the next day.

Of course, Eric’s travels did not end there. It seemed we were always asking, “Where’s Eric?”

The next summer, he and a neighbor girl decided to take a journey. At that time, we lived close to War Eagle’s Grave, which sits on a mountain of a bluff overlooking Interstate 29 and the Missouri River. I tell you that because Eric and Dana, both four years old, set out to walk there.

It was just before 5 o’clock when I started to holler for Eric to come to supper, anxious because my two older boys had a scout meeting at 7 o’clock and we needed to eat and “be prepared,” as the scout motto tells us, before leaving.

Normally, Eric would surface quickly for food, but that afternoon, he did not. With some investigation, we discovered Dana was also AWOL. The search began. While I was trying to get my older sons fed, my husband and others began traipsing around the nearby wooded War Eagle Park.

As it grew darker, I felt the familiar nausea return, until we were called by Dana’s parents and learned two women had picked up Dana walking on the Interstate and brought her home. She and Eric had made their way up to the monument, descended down the bluff, traversed a set of railroad tracks, and climbed over a chain link fence to the Interstate. The women could not get to Eric because he had climbed back over the fence and was trying to go back up the bluff.

Since we now knew where Eric was, I loaded the older boys into the car and went to the scout meeting, instructing Dean to bring our son home. When I returned, I asked my husband what happened when he found Eric. Was he scared? What did he say?

“He said he knew I would find him,” Dean said.

I went into Eric’s room and asked him, “What were you and Dana thinking?”

As only a 4-year-old could answer, he said, “I don’t know.”

There were other episodes of losing Eric in grocery stores, at retail establishments and sporting events, but nothing of the magnitude of these two experiences.

I told Eric I was writing this story and asked where he was headed – some three decades ago – on that journey up to War Eagle’s and down to the Interstate.

“The river was our destination,” he said.

Images of two four-year olds crossing four lanes of Interstate 29 and reaching the Missouri River – known for its high-speed current – flooded my mind. My brown eyes widened and my jaw must have dropped.

“But it set me up to go the same route in the winter by myself to throw stones on the ice and watch them bounce off,” Eric said. Seeing my even-more horrified look, he shrugged his shoulders, mumbling, “It was no big deal.”

Well, I guess not. After all, Eric was standing in front of me looking none the worse for wear.

So, in essence, Eric exemplifies: “Wherever you go, there you are.” Add the shoulder shrug for emphasis.

And all of those motherly worries and nauseous feelings for me reinforce: “What I didn’t know, didn’t hurt me.”

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Tune in every Wednesday at 7:50 to hear more from Ode. The next live event is Saturday, July 30, at Vangarde Arts. The theme is “Why do we tell stories?”    

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