1971 – little girl lost

After the excitement and the fear (well, most of it) had subsided and the family had returned to their homes, we set about learning how to live as a family. I guess I should mention that we lost a baby 4 months into our first pregnancy in 1970. Suffice it to say, we paid special attention to Cristopher and every little moan or cough until we were comfortable with the new baby noises. Bob was working night shifts in Denver. Usually, after feeding Cristopher a midnight bottle, he would sleep in my arms as I drifted in and out of sleep in the big chair. Our breathing rhythms became one and I started to sleep easy until around 5 a.m. Bob would arrive home from work and take baby from my arms. I could hear him talking with Cristopher in hushed tones while he changed him and warmed a bottle for his morning feeding. It was our routine for a bit and I took great comfort in knowing what to expect each morning.

It was mid-November and I was toting my 2 week old baby boy in my little red station wagon from Longmont Colorado to Greeley Colorado.  My good friend, Debbie, was attending college there and we needed some girlfriend time.  The weather was cool – not cold.  There was no snow on the ground or in the forecast yet.  Seemed like the perfect time to make the 40 mile trek to visit with Debbie, and still have time to make it to north Denver to pick up the Hubs and then home in time to fix dinner.

Debbie and I talked about her military and nursing plans.  We talked about having babies (me) and campus life (her).  The time seemed to fly by and I kept extending my stay by a few minutes.  Several times.  By the time I did leave, I was already running late, but figured it would just be a few minutes.  What’s a few minutes, really? With that in mind, Debbie knew a shortcut to Denver.  Just take this street and then turn left and after that …  I listened.  Clearly  not as close as I should have.  But I did listen.

Driving through the streets of Greeley was tedious at best.  Traffic literally crawled because of the evening rush hour. Bob had worked a double shift, so instead of getting off work at 4:30 a.m. he would be getting off at 4:30 p.m. and I listened intently to a local radio station until they announced the time – 5:15 p.m. and I was just getting out of Greeley traffic. That is when everything began to blur in my mind. What was the name of the street Debbie told me to turn on? I saw street signs and traffic lights and lots of 18 wheelers driving very fast. Cristopher began to cry, needing a bottle and a diaper change. I realized his formula was gone and all of the diapers I had brought were used. After about an hour of driving in circles, it was as though the heavens opened up and shined it’s light. There it was. I wiped the tears from my eyes and comforted Cristopher with songs and talking and felt a weight off my shoulder. It could not have been more beautiful. US Interstate Highway 25. I was home free now. If only I had turned south instead of north. Cristopher had fallen back asleep and besides the feeling of being a failure as a mother – I mean, not enough formula and diapers? Really?? – I was exhilarated at the fact that I was on I-25. But, again, there was that north/south thing going on.

I was feeling confident that I would be seeing north Denver very soon. Instead, I saw something totally different that was unsettling to say the least. “Welcome to Cheyenne – Home of Frontier Days”. Cheyenne? Wasn’t that in Wyoming or something? My eyes were again bleary with tears. Being somewhat night blind anyway, crying was not a good thing at this juncture. I needed to focus! I only had to get to where the highway went south and I KNEW I would run smack into Denver then. It was about 9:30 p.m. now. That meant that Bob had been off work and waiting for me to arrive for 5 hours. It sickened me to know he was waiting and worried and probably a little angry. I knew he was cold and hungry and tired. Oh, great. Now I was also a failure as a wife!

I started the drive south on the highway. It seemed like hours of guilt and frustration and fear of never seeing home again. It was getting late, but I saw a small gas station open in the not too distant. This was before the 24 hour stations that were also stocked with car parts, sandwiches and hair spray and anything else you would need at three times the normal price. This was a little gas station with two pumps – regular and diesel. The inside barely held the one guy in a chair and his buddy leaning against the broken candy machine. I had no idea where I was and being in the early 1970s I am certain the guy thought I was on drugs when I walked (almost) in, carrying a wet and crying newborn and asking him “Where am I?” The nice man quietly answered, giving me a street name. “No. I mean, what state am I in?” Looking at me and then his buddy, gently said “Colorado” to which I hugged my baby boy and cried “Thank God”.

They let me use their business phone to call my brother, Jay, who lived in Denver. I gave him the short version and just said I had gotten lost, Bob was now waiting 7 hours to be picked up. Jay assured me he would drive to pick up Bob and then bring him home to Longmont. He was worried that if I tried to go to Denver again, it would just get worse. So, now I could concentrate on the task at hand. One man took out a thermos of cold milk from his lunch pail, washed out the baby bottle as best he could, filled it with half of his milk and half hot water to dilute and warm the milk at the same time. Cristopher latched on to that bottle for dear life. Nice. Another Kodak moment of my failures. The other man went to the restroom and pulled the cotton towel from the machine and cut it off the roller. He then pulled out as much as he could of the unused toweling and brought it to me to make a diaper. As one of the guys was filling my tank to the brim, I made Cristopher a soft clean “diaper” of three layers and placed him back in his infant seat in the car. (Don’t yell at me. We didn’t use car seats back then!) With my promise of sending them a check to pay for everything, and the man’s insistence of “nah, my pleasure”, I set about with their instructions and a baby with a full tummy and a little red Valiant with a full tank. As they got smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror, I vaguely recalled their instructions not to turn that way to get on to the highway but to turn this way and it would lead me right to Longmont.

I took the turn that I thought I remembered them saying and followed a truck with a Boulder County license plate, thinking I was almost home free! That was fleeting as I noticed that the truck I was following was driving the highway loop, leading me right back from where I started. Being night blind and a migraine just waiting on the sidelines, the truck disappeared into the night and I once again began my journey and missed the turn. It is difficult to see the dark highway through tears with night blindness and a migraine gracing me with bright flashes in my eyes. As I get closer to the same gas station, the two angel gas station guys were standing outside, furiously waving their arms and pointing to the correct turnoff. Gotta admire their dedication.

The rest of the short drive was uneventful. About 20 minutes after getting Cristopher a warm bath and clean sleeper and his usual midnight feeding, Jay and Sandy, followed by Bob, walk into the apartment. Expecting to hear a barrage of “what were you thinking” and “never again”, there was complete silence. Bob walks towards me and wraps his arms around me with the tightest hug I ever felt. I heard the words “you scared me so bad” before he let me go and walked to the baby’s crib, laying his hand on Cristopher’s back just to feel him breathing.

This was only the first of many “I got lost” events in our marriage. But those are stories for another time.