Sunday, March 27, 2011 was an exceptionally cold and bitter day in Athens. I remember it vividly–that was the day a kind stranger gave me this large gold safety pin. I rediscovered it this weekend in my car’s console.
G and I drove the kids up to Broad Street that afternoon and parked in an empty bank parking lot. Carlos was just 3 months old. I swaddled him in the Moby wrap then buckled my coat over both of us. We walked up to the grassy verge of the road and waited. Hundreds of people waited along with us, everyone whispering and looking east to the top of the hill. Vivi was bundled in a coat and hat, but the cold wind cut right through them. She whined about the cold. I held her close to my leg and rubbed her back. We waited.
“Mommy? Where is the sad parade?”
Earlier that week, Senior Officer Elmer “Buddy” Christian had been murdered in the line of duty. Vivi heard us discussing it and I had to explain to her what had happened. I stuck to the basics: a police officer died when a bad man shot him with a gun. When we decided to take the family to the funeral procession, I explained what she could expect to see. People stand quietly and watch the hearse and the police cars go by to say “thank you” to officers who help us stay safe. Her clever mind turned those concepts into “sad parade.”
“It will be along in a little while.” G took her back to the car to wait. But she wanted to see the road herself. The view was blocked as more and more people came to pay respects by the side of the highway. Vivi took the baby blanket from the car and wrapped it around herself so that she could come back out in the cold and the quiet.
We waited. There wasn’t much talking. Quiet minutes crept by. I cried as Carlos slept against my heartbeat. Every time Vivi wiggled, the blanket slipped off her shoulders. I tried tying it around her neck but it was too short. I tried holding her and the blanket still but she grew frustrated. I was growing tired myself and couldn’t think of a way to make it work–paying respects while keeping an infant and a three year old warm in that brutal cold.
“Would this help?” A small, silver-haired woman who had been standing next to us offered me this large safety pin from her purse. Her purse was one of those magically sturdy Grandma purses that yield whatever a moment might need. We both breathed a sigh of relief that stopped just before a laugh. I tucked the blanket around Vivi’s neck and the kind stranger pinned it closed. She gripped Vivi gently by the shoulders and whispered, “A magic cape for you!”
The sad parade rolled by. We watched in silence for an hour. We turned and went home. I unpinned the blanket before putting Vivi in her car seat. I stowed the very useful safety pin in the console and it waited there until this weekend.
That summer of 2011, Vivi took swimming lessons at the Y. One little blonde girl in her age group looked very familiar to me, but I couldn’t place her. It came to me later, when her mother came into the pool area to pick her up–she was Officer Christian’s daughter, the same age as my girl.
The next day, I was the only mom tromping through the dressing room with the girls as they collected their towels and shoes after lessons. One girl couldn’t find her flip flops. Her. I called to her, “Callie? Your shoes are right over here honey.” I pointed to them and she smiled and said, “Thanks!” I patted her head in blessing as she walked by.
She looked at me funny because I had said her name. For a split second, she looked like she was trying to place me. She knew I wasn’t a family friend. Then she paused and I think the knowledge flickered across her face–that reason why strangers know her. So many people know her name and her father’s name. I hope it’s the reason that people are kind to her for the rest of her life. Why we all want to keep her and her little brother safe.