Our child was missing, and the world has never been a bigger place than it was that Sunday morning as we stood in our doorway looking out into it with terror in our hearts. “GO to the neighbors’. Maybe they saw something, or she’s there. You know how friendly she is.” It was true. At the age of two, Maggie wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone. The wisdom and focus my young husband, Lyle was functioning with was a stark contrast to the chaos in my brain. Fear had me paralyzed, frozen to the spot I stood in, eyes wild. I willed myself to move. Right, start here, then call the police, and work our way outward.
My silent plea was quickly answered, “Lord, you love her more than we do. Keep her safe, and help us find her (NOW).” The four-plex we were living in, our fifth home since the day we married, less than three years before, was quickly canvassed, and our baby girl was found visiting with the downstairs neighbors. The flood of relief was as powerful as the fear we had been stricken with only seconds ago. Adrenaline continued to surge through us, as we collected the little tyke, and brought her upstairs where her eight month old sister smiled up at us from her crib, oblivious to the chaos that had preceded her peaceful waking moments. Arms reached for me. I picked her up and deposited her in her high chair, filling the tray with cereal or bananas. I was still functioning on auto-pilot as I threw breakfast together. Serrah sat in the high chair, slapping the, now, empty tray with her chubby baby hands. Blue eyes pleaded with me, “Un mo” (“Want more”). “Please?” I prompted. “Peat,” she gave me her baby toothed grin.
The normalcy of fixing breakfast and readying the table and the girls was bringing me back to reality. As I picked Maggie up to put her in her booster seat. I held her tight, “Maggie Ann, you can never do that again. You can’t go out the door without Mommy or Daddy. You scared us.” Tears streamed down my cheeks. Lyle was a fixer, “I’ll put a chain lock up high. She won’t be able to get out again,” he comforted me. Serious eyes looked upon his eldest, “Baby girl, You scared Daddy. No more going outside alone. I mean it. I should paddle your butt.” “No, Daeyo. Don’t spanka my butt!” I think “Daeyo” was a combination of “Daddy” and “Lyle.” Clearly speculation. The gibberish was still free-flowing from her. And, I couldn’t begin to explain the Italian twist she often accentuated her words with. She was an absolute wonder. We couldn’t deliver the spanking that was probably warranted. Relief and love for her wouldn’t allow it.
We shifted gears. Church was no longer a possibility. On to the next order of business, racing. Lyle had been racing stock cars for as long as I knew him. He didn’t do so hot when he was still drinking and using. He had gone through treatment at the age of nineteen, and attended AA meetings regularly. Sobriety brought success to him on the race track. He tore it up, and often won his heat race and the features. He won enough money to pay for the next weeks pit passes and a baby sitter. We donned our whites and headed for the track.
I was part of the pit crew, the Sommerfeld Racing team. My job was to have cigarettes and mountain dew at the ready for him, and I laced his helmet with the tear offs for each race. The tear-offs, plastic strips that were to be placed across the eyes on the face shield, alternating the direction, attached to buttons on either side. The drivers then tore the films away when they got muddy, ensuring a clear view through the one underneath. My first attempt had been an epic fail. I put the whole stack across, all in the same direction. The first time he went to tear one off, the rest came with it, and he raced with a muddy face shield, wiping off what he could as he drove. I did my best at not being girly girl and tried up with the crew. I would fill and carry the five-gallon buckets of water that were needed to cool the radiator whenever he pulled in to the pits. I was proud of him. He was excelling at something he loved and was passionate about. Yup, that guy being handed the trophy over there is my husband. I’m with him, and he’s a force to be reckoned with on that dirt track. In those moments, the hours he spent at the shop working on the race car seemed closer to worthwhile.
Lyle had been laid off from John Deer for the third time. He delivered pizzas until he landed a full-time job. Now working for a repair shop, a small family business, new and on shaky legs, at best, we managed to get by. I had turned twenty one, graduated from business college, and was doing daycare in our home while I searched for a job. We had a home, two beautiful girls, enough food, friends to entertain on occasion, and each other. Things were going well. Life was good. And so we waited — for the other shoe to fall, because it would.