Goes To The Mall
I seldom go to the mall. The people, the materialism, the sense of stuff pushed at a person from every direction. Even in Salem, where the pace is somewhat slower than the big city malls we knew in St. Louis. Even in Salem Oregon, where a single highway leads north to Portland, south to Eugene, the mall is where I most hate to go.
There are other places to shop. For things you need, not as
recreation, of course. Downtown Salem, if you call such a thing “Downtown”. Specialty stores. Boutiques. department stores. The aversion of the mall is never quite an inconvenience. To me, it is more like my life goal.
But at Christmas– that season that seems to stretch from somewhere mid-autumn way past the first of the new year– at Christmas, who can possibly avoid it? Everything promotes it. Every tentacle of marketing and fund-raising pulls toward it. Even the schools lure parents there with the promise of seeing their darlings arranged in harmonious rows to sing for passers-by. The conspiracy is
irresistibly contrived. And I was willing, at that season, for my own darling, mine and Joel’s, to comply.
She was lovely. Her long copper hair French-braided down her back, her face shining up from the middle of the second row. Colleen. our youngest daughter. Our youngest child. Somehow her soprano tones were always more discernable, more retrievable amid the other voices, the shuffle of parental feet, the rustle of shopping bags. Colleen. nine years old. Midway between birth and adulthood. Our youngest.
Of course, the program must include holiday favorites. “Silver Bells” and “Jolly old St. Nicholas”. Something Christian, “Silent Night”. Something Jewish, “Shalom Chaverim”. A Black Spiritual: “Let It Rain.” And the grabber, the song about children singing, and the unity of the world, and love for all Mankind. So I shivered with the emotional pull, but managed to fight back my tears.
At last, the sixty children from area elementary schools filed out in their matching T-shirts, black with sky blue writing announcing their affiliation to McNary High School. And the parents pushed forward to catch one last glimpse of their innocent darlings. One last glimpse of our last darling.
But the news that night was shocking. After dinner. after homework. after Colleen’s shower and hair-brushing. After the older two, the teenagers, retreated to their rooms to do whatever. After Joel and I were settled into the hush of fatigue, the lull of mundane living.
One of the singers, one of the darlings had not made it home. One of the little girls in the McNary Area Honor Choir was missing.
“Do you know her?” I asked.
“Not really,” I was told. “She’s from Smith Elementary, I think.”
But the hugs became tighter that night, the push toward bedtime not so urgent. One of the darlings was missing. It wasn’t Colleen. It could have been.
(to be continued)