HEAD IN THE CLOUDS:
It was March 2003, and we’d just moved to Colorado from California, to be closer to my parents. My father had been unwell so we’d made the decision to move closer so that we could help support my mother. We’d only been there a week, so we’d had a busy time moving in and making our new home comfortable and livable.
I remember the day clearly; it was a Monday morning. My plan was to drop the kids off to their new school and then call mom to tell her that I would be there for lunch and I would be surprising them with a treat, so to get the coffee started.
John, my husband, had mentioned to me before he’d left for work on that morning that there was a blizzard warning forecast, but I had my head in the pantry checking out what I needed to stock up on, and John must have had his head in the clouds, being a pilot. He was starting a new job and was flying international, so he’d be away for a few days. We laugh about it now, but really, our minds were elsewhere. We’d just left sunny California were flowers were popping up all over the place, so bad weather was certainly not on our minds.
I was thinking ahead and felt pleased with the fact that I could go to the supermarket early and leisurely pick and choose my baking essentials, herbs, and spices to replenish my empty pantry.
I parked the car in the parking lot and noticed that there weren’t many cars, which I thought was great, as I’d be able to cruise around the supermarket at my own leisure and basically have the aisles to myself. What a luxury, I thought.
I noticed a thin flurry of snow had covered the windscreen, and so I buttoned up my jacket, pulled down my thick woollen hat over my ears and pulled on my mittens that mom had knitted for me. She had reminded me a few days earlier that I would be needing them and said, “Mark my word, you’ll need them, dear.”
Making my way across the empty parking lot towards the double glass doors that led into the supermarket, I noticed a handful of people leaving and thought how lucky I was that I’d missed the immediate rush. If this had been California, I would be fighting to get in the door, so was feeling happy with my decision.
As I entered the supermarket, I noticed a small group of checkout operators all huddled together, with an older woman pointing her finger. I gathered it must be their supervisor and that they were being reprimanded for something they’d done, or perhaps hadn’t done? The checkouts all had closed signs across them, so I presumed that they were just having a small meeting while things were quiet.
The trolley I’d chosen had been left and pushed to one side and it was so much easier to grab that rather than trying to pull out a trolley from the ones that were jammed into the trolley bay. I leisurely glided around the aisles and picked up cans and packets, checking their ingredients, making sure their contents didn’t contain any nuts or nut residue, as Jay, our youngest child was allergic to nuts. I’d been careless and had forgotten to put my glasses on, so had to check everything up close about three times as I squinted to try and read the small lettering. I realized I’d left them on the car seat when I’d put my hat on. I didn’t want to rush out and get them now, as I’d have to start all over again if my trolley was found abandoned, and taken away and all the products put back in their rightful place.
The aisles were so quiet that I was pleased to see a young woman carrying a small baby in a car seat on one arm, as well as trying to hold on to a toddler in the other. The child, a boy, had broken away and was causing quite a fuss running and screaming down the aisle. I decided it would be a good move for me to turn back and head towards the bakery and return once the woman and her kids had vacated the aisle. I was so glad my kids were past that stage and were able to walk civilly around a supermarket without being little monsters and demanding everything in sight.
The smell of the bakery smelt delicious and I followed my nose towards it. The first thing that I noticed was that the lighting was very dim and there were no lights on above the counter. I looked around and stretched my neck so that I could see into the recess at the back of the bakery to find an assistant to help me, but no one was to be seen. I rang the small bell that sat on top of the counter-top, but still no one came. I presumed they’d all gone off for their tea break and left the counter unmanned. I must admit, in that moment I did start to feel just a little nervous. Perhaps it would be best if I paid for what I had and to just call into a bakery on the way to mom and dad’s to buy something for lunch.
I made my way back down the aisle I’d left the young woman and her children in, and I must admit that I felt creeped out. It must have been my intuition kicking in, but I had this overwhelming urge to leave the building quickly. The place felt eerie. I wasn’t familiar with the place, but this was ‘different.’ I pushed the trolley quickly now down the aisle towards the checkout, thinking the sooner I’m out of here, the better. I was going to complain about the shoddy service I’d encountered. I was feeling apprehensive now as I started to walk quickly. It was when I neared the end of the aisle that I took a double take. There, placed on the floor, by the shelf, filled with Oreo cookies, sat a baby girl dressed in a pale pink, with a white bonnet. I was expecting her mother and the young boy to come rushing around the corner, so I peeped out to the right and to the left to see if the mother had dashed around the corner to grab the toddler, but there was no one to be seen.
I looked ahead at the checkouts and there were no checkout operators on the tills, no customers, no people stacking the shelves, and no mother to the baby girl that was now grinning ear to ear and cooing contentedly.
I yelled out, ‘Hello. Hello, is there anyone here?’ No one replied. I could hear the hum of the refrigerators whirring away and the sound of the wind whistling around the expansive roof.
Leaving my trolley, I walked across to the double doors only to find they were locked. I could see the snow piling up around the automatic doors and the wind was whistling and howling like a wild wolf around the door. I could see my car in the distance covered in pure white, as though a sheet had covered it. The wind was whipping, and the snow fell on an awkward lean as it lashed out angrily. I was trapped, and I knew it. Panic set in and I started to scream and bang on the doors. ‘Help, help,’ I cried, but no one came.
I wandered back to the cookie aisle to the baby. I must admit she did look pleased to see me and she grinned ear to ear, although once she realized that I wasn’t her mother, she gave out a high-pitched scream that could have woken the dead. The sound reverberated throughout the supermarket and I was sure that if anyone was still in the building, other than just us two, then they would have certainly heard it.
‘Shh, shh,’ I said, not sure what to do about myself, let alone an upset abandoned baby without a mother.
I’d call mom and get her to send a cab for me, that’s what I should do. I’ll call the police and tell them I’m locked in a supermarket with a baby. Yes, that’s what I’ll do. They’ll come and rescue us and get us home safely. I searched through my handbag, but no phone. I put my palm to my brow and hit it twice. How careless could I have been. I’d left the phone, on the car seat after I’d phone mom to tell her that I was coming for lunch.
I unfastened the screaming baby from its seat and held her up close and over my shoulder, where she seemed to quieten. I jiggled her and walked up and down the aisle thinking what I should do next?
I made my way out into the back of the shop and through a heavy door. There were boxes stacked high with leafy green vegetables, fruit, cartons of milk and cheese all ready to be refrigerated, but just left, and again, there was no one to be seen. The cold from the concrete floor seemed to rise and I felt so bitterly cold. I was glad I’d put mom’s hat on. I snuggled the baby in closer, pushing her under my coat now, trying to keep her from the cold. I noticed a roller-type door and made my way across to the painted brick wall where an array of buttons sat on a keypad. I thought if I pushed all of them then surely one of them would open the door and we could both escape to my car at the least. Well, yes, one of them did open the door, but I might as well have been on top of the Himalayas as the snow whipped around my body, piling up in a mound at my feet. I quickly pushed all the buttons again, finally hitting the right one to lower the door, as the metal trim at the bottom crushed it to the floor.
The baby started to scream and this time my maternal instinct kicked in. I knew that she needed to be fed. The heavy bulge that sat on my forearm also reminded me that she would in fact need a nappy change sooner rather than later.
I found an abandoned trolley and put wee ‘Abigail,’ on her back, as she kicked furiously and giggled at me at the same time. I think it was at that moment we had become good friends. Abigail, in fact, was the name I’d made up for her, as I’d promised myself that if I had another child and it was a girl, then I would call her Abigail. I pulled myself together as best I could, knowing that I needed to nurture this baby in my arms. I realized that I was probably in the best place to do this and set out to find baby formula, nappies, bottles, and bibs. I could hear the wind whistling through the roof and the creaks and groans were starting to become louder within the expansive building. ‘Concentrate, Libby,’ I said to myself. I began at the first aisle and looked down the rows until I finally found ‘Baby Food.’ It was getting darker and the dim light and my bad eyesight, without my glasses, made me squint. I found a shelf filled with formula, with gold, pink and white labels, and then tried to decipher what age she might be?
I remember, and luckily now I think back, I had a small flashlight on my keyring that I’d acquired from a Christmas cracker some years before. I couldn’t believe what a Godsend it was right at this moment.
I decided, from memory, that young Abigail must be about three months old. I placed one of the gold tins in the trolley and found a shelf with small rolled up fleecy baby blankets and chose pale pink with little blue hearts. I lifted her wee body and placed the rug underneath her, choosing another in the same color and pattern to throw over her to keep in the warmth. I then found the shelf with nappies and helped myself to a naught to three months pack, as was sure they’d fit her. I spotted a cute bib with a giraffe motif on and decided she deserved only the best since we were trapped in here together.
Now, my question was… where I would find hot water and somewhere warm to nurture this little girl?
I was starting to feel afraid now as the lighting became dimmer. I saw a set of wooden steps and wondered where they led to? I picked Abigail up out of the trolley, wrapping her in the rug and gently put her to my shoulder. We climbed up the stairs that led us into a dark room as I whispered gently to soothe her, while at the same time my heart was missing a beat.
My little torch light, although small, lit up the area in front of us and I moved it around to see tables and chairs dotted around the room, a sink, and a hot water tap above it. ‘Yes,’ I said, startling Abigail with my sudden burst of excitement. ‘We can do this, kid,’ I whispered.
I carefully went back down the wooden steps, hearing every creak as I went. I gently laid Abigail back into the trolley and pulled out the formula, the bottle, bib, and nappies, and ran back up the stairs placing everything I needed on the small table in front of me. It was then that I heard her scream and fear ripped through me. I rushed back down the stairs and heard the angry roar of the blizzard pulling at the roof, as if wanting to tear it apart.
‘Shh, shh, it’s okay, darling,” and I picked her up until she felt safe again in my arms. I carried back up the stairs where I was able to prepare the formula, feed her, change her, and love her in the darkest moments for both of us.
By now, I knew my parents would be worried, as would my children, as I wasn’t able to contact them. I was now a missing person.
It was three whole days that Abby and I spent in that big supermarket. Now, when I think back, I think how blessed we were to be trapped in that place together, as at least we had all the necessary needs.
Now, in 2020, and always on 3 March, I receive a small gift from Maddie and her mother reminding me of how grateful they both were that I was there and I was able to nurture that little girl for three whole days until she was able to be snuggled back into her mother’s arms where she belong.
I could never understand why a mother could leave her baby alone in the grocery aisle of a supermarket, but it just happened that Maddie’s mother had chased through the double doors to grab her son before he ran out onto the parking lot. The doors closed behind her and no one would listen to her pleas. “Get home now, lady,” they told her. It was the worst nightmare of her life, as all the phones were down in Colorado for three days. Maria said it was the worst three days she has ever had to live through as a mother, but there was something inside her that told her that her baby would be okay.
I will never take an ordinary grocery shopping expedition for granted anymore, and I never go early to miss the crowds, I’m always there in the thick of it and now I always donate a tin of formula to a needy cause. I also now always listen to the weather forecast and if there is even just a hint of a dusting of snow now, I won’t move from the house.
That day in March, the wind blew at about 35 miles per hour and there was 32 inches of snow. Abigail and I were lucky to have each other and we were even luckier to be locked in a place that could feed us and house us for those three long days and three long nights.