While living in Cleveland, Ohio in 1978. I had experienced firsthand the 3rd worst blizzard in the United States. More than 122 winters have come and gone since the “Great White Hurricane,” of 1888. Considered the worst blizzard ever, that storm immobilized New York, Boston, Cleveland, Maine and other major cities, blocking roads and wiping out telephone, telegraph and rail services for several days. When the skies finally cleared, fires and flooding inflicted billions of dollars of damage. The disaster resulted in more than 9,000 deaths, including 1,200 in New York City alone. In the decade that followed, partly in response to the 1888 storm and the massive gridlock it wrought, New York and Boston broke ground on the country’s first underground subway systems.
Now the blizzard in 1978 was no joke either. On February 5, 1978 when snowflakes failed to materialize in the pre-dawn hours as meteorologists had predicted. There was no Doppler Weather Radar in those days.
I decided to venture to Hills Department Store.(Hills was a discount department store chain based in Canton, Massachusetts. It was founded in 1957 in Youngstown, Ohio and existed until 1999 when it was acquired by Ames).
Later that day while I was shopping, hurricane-force winds and whiteout conditions took me by surprise. The storm pummeled gridlocked highways, forcing drivers and passengers to abandon their cars or be buried along with them. Massive snowdrifts trapped families in their homes and workers in their offices. I wasn’t aware of any of that information while trapped in that department store.
All morning long my stomach was acting up. My new wife of 1 month decided to cook dinner for the first time. As a matter of fact I went shopping to buy her an inexpensive gift for cooking us dinner and to buy a case of Pepto Bismol that would provide me relief from nausea, diarrhea and upset stomach due to overindulgence in my wife’s cooking and me over drinking, along with heartburn and indigestion.
I suddenly had to rush to the store bathroom.
When I returned to finish my shopping the store was as empty as a metaphor, a missed opportunity and missing your opportunities is bad style. Please note that this doesn't mean this is a "bad" metaphor. It means that it's a metaphor that isn't (currently) working. In the right context, it could be a great metaphor for this unbelievable true story.
It was quite eerie being the only person in the store I believed at that time. Then all of a sudden I heard the wails of a baby. I checked 6 aisles before I discovered a baby in aisle 11 pamper section. She appeared to be between 9 to 13 months old.
There were a multitude of thoughts going through my mind at the time. The first being, was I in the TV series the Twilight Zone?
I was a little hard of hearing at the time because when I was a thug gang member at 16 years of age my brother shot a .357 Magnum gun near my ears. Someone must had assuredly announce to evacuate the premises. Why would someone leave a baby? I couldn’t shake that thought.
When I got me and the baby to the checkout line I noticed out of the big glass window that it looked as if it had snowed 18 inches already. How long was I in that bathroom removing last nights dinner I thought?
I couldn’t see any cars in the parking lot but my own and it was deeply covered in snow. I asked the baby should we chance going to the police station our to my home? She just smiled up at me showing just two front teeth.
I was torn between leaving the baby to clean off the car and drive up to the front door or stay put until help would eventually come.
The good thing about getting caught in a store was that she and I could survive until the blizzard subsided, not knowing at that time it would last for 3 days. My plan to clean the car off changed drastically when the baby started crying. After checking her overly soiled pamper I knew why. Back to isle 11 we went. Then to the milk section, baby food section, baby toy section and finally the crib section. I found a crib already built and after Baby Jane Doe ate, she went fast to sleep, especially after listening to my rendition of “Rock-a-Bye Baby”:
On the treetops,
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks
The cradle will fall,
And down will come baby Jane Doe
Cradle and all.
That last off key singing note did the trick. While the baby slept I tried to use the phones in hopes of calling my wife or the authorities. All the phones were as dead as door nails.
My occupation as a Drug Abuse Counselor kind of prepared me for this situation and believing in GOD. Having grown up on Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry and similar cartoons. I can't tell you how many times I've watched episodes involving a baby left on a doorstep.
Have you ever watched the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button?
It’s not comical or cartoon like to actually see an abandon baby left in a car seat in aisle 11 when it is discovered right before your very own eyes.
I once counseled a young drug addicted mother who sold her baby for two 20 dollar cocaine crack rocks.
One drug addicted woman tossed her baby in a dumpster because the baby daddy was sleeping with her mother and sister who were on drugs as well. The baby daddy was a big time dope dealer.
I remembered reading long ago that the ancient Spartans systematically weeded out weak or deformed infants by leaving them in a chasm (or maybe tossing them into it Plutarch).
Chronicles and stories from around the world tell of babies and small children set adrift in chests, dropped off in the forest a la Hansel and Gretel, or otherwise exposed a few to be found and taken in, the rest to die. Homes for foundlings as children rescued from abandonment were called, were set up as early as the eighth century. Pope Innocent III, aghast at infanticide rates in 11th-century Rome, ordered the installation of foundling wheels revolving-door contraptions that enabled an infant to be dropped off anonymously at a convent. As of 1790 the Hotel-Dieu in Paris was receiving more than 7,000 abandoned infants a year (even with subsequent care, death rates ran as high as 75 percent). Records maintained by the New York Foundling Asylum show that 2,457 infants were dropped off there between October 1869 and November 1871.
The Department of Health and Human Services estimated that nearly 31,000 babies were abandoned in 1998, for instance, but the HHS definition of “abandoned baby” includes drug- or HIV-exposed infants born in hospitals and kept there for safety reasons. The number of babies simply left somewhere in public, which is more what we’re talking about, is thought to be in the low hundreds per year. Such guesses, though, are based on accounts in the media again, nobody keeps official track.
But even today babies are still sometimes left in a wicker basket on a porch. There are places where mothers can drop off unwanted infants using an ATM-like booth.
Not a pleasant thing to contemplate, but it sure beats the dumpster or a department store.
During those three days of isolation in that department store today my daughter Adrienne and I have had an incredible 42 years of togetherness.