It was the summer of 1969. We were visiting my parents in Antwerp, Belgium. We were spending a couple of weeks in Knokke, a resort town on the North Sea with them and our children, 8-year old Sarah and 6-year old Steven. It was a beautiful sunny day but too cool to go swimming, so we decided to stroll along the ocean front and do some window shopping.
My husband, Howard, was with Steven and I followed a few paces behind with Sarah. She and I went into a store to browse. As we came out, Howard was also leaving another store, but Steven was not with him.
“Where is Steven?” I shouted.
“I thought he was with you,” answered Howard.
“No, he was with you!”
We looked around, up and down the street and there was no sign of Steven. We panicked. Where could he be? In Belgium they speak French and Flemish; the latter is similar to Dutch. I am the only one in the family who can communicate with the locals as I speak French.
I ran to the beach, and asked the beach attendants if they saw a small boy going into the water.
“No, I did not see anyone like that,” one responded.
I panicked, where could he be? He couldn’t communicate as he spoke and understood only English. I stopped a police patrol, asking if they saw a young boy alone.
“No, we have not seen any child wandering alone.”
I was desperate. “Where is my baby?”
Then one police officer suggested that I check our hotel a few blocks away.
“It is my experience,” she said, “lost children often return to where they live. Why don’t you go to your hotel, he might have gone there.”
Terrified, we crossed the main street that separated us from our bed and breakfast, doubtful that he would have been able to find his way back there – several blocks away.
We ran into the lobby and asked the attendant, “Did you see our son?”
“Oh, yes,” she responded, “he went into your room.”
We ran upstairs, and in our room, lying on the bed, sleeping was Steven. He woke up crying.
“I am sorry. I crossed the street by myself. I thought you would be angry, and I would be punished. I know I am not allowed to do that.”
Well, we hugged, comforted him, and assured him that not only would he not be punished, but we were so happy that he was safe.
It was an experience I will never forget.
I asked Steven recently if he remembered. He has a clear memory of this incident and corrected the year it happened.
I was surprised that he remembers after so many years. It must have made a very deep, scary impression on him.
Read more by Felicia Graber.