The Prairie Spy

Alan “Lindy” Linda

When our oldest child was 15, and we were wrestling constantly with the freedom vs. safety issue, she came home from a night out with her friends with a tale that nearly drove us to lock her in her room until she was 30.

She had been out the night before with her girlfriends, one of whom now had a driver’s license. They went to a movie and were home quite early, so mom and I were basking in the relaxed after glow of our fledgling’s first flight. We slept like babies. The next morning at breakfast, however, we were alarmed to hear the following tale unfold.

Fifteen said that after the movie, they drove around town a little, waved at kids they knew, drove, waved, drove some more, finally stopped at the only place in town open at that time of evening—a convenience store.

Inside the brightly lit safety of the quick stop, they all got Mountain Dews, she said, from a large glass cooler. On the way to the checkout counter up front, they dawdled and giggled over various items for sale on the shelves, enjoying their freedom.

For that time of night, it was quite busy in the store. People getting gas. Shopping for milk. Milling around. Coming and going. An older lady with hair half grey came up to 15 and said, “You look just like my daughter. I miss her so. She died of cancer last year after an awful time in the hospital.”

The lady, said 15, seemed so nice but so sad that what could she do but listen as the rest of the woman’s somber story unfolded.

As I listened to 15’s story take this quirky little turn, my thoughts leaped ahead as I searched for all the possible ways a stranger, even a lady, could take advantage of a teenager on her first outing in the world. I kept a calm look on my face, about all one could do at that point, and hid my trembling hands beneath the table.

I easily pictured all three of the young girls, interrupted in the midst of their fun, politely listening to this sad adult, as they had been taught. After all, what danger might lurk here?

After talking a bit more, the older woman said to 15, “You have been very kind to listen to me. Would you do one thing for me?”

Right here, I wanted to leap to my feet, go someplace where strangers don’t take advantage of the innocent. Someplace safe. Someplace….that hardly exists anymore.

Fifteen said yes, sure, what can I do for you?

The lady said: “It would mean so much to me if my daughter had had a chance t o say goodbye to me. As I go out the door, would you wave at me and say: “Goodbye, Mom?”

Fifteen said sure, she’d be glad to do that.

As the lady went out past the checkout counter, 15 saw her say something briefly to the cashier, stop in the doorway, turn around, and wave.

Fifteen said, in a voice loud enough to be heard: “Goodbye, Mom.” The lady turned around, waved again, and left.

Suddenly, 15 said, the three of them weren’t having that much fun anymore, so they went to the cashier to pay for their pop and candy bars. When 15’s turn came to hand the man the money, he said to her: “What about your mother’s gas? She said you had the money.”

Fifteen said, “Oh, she’s not my mother, she’s just a lady…..” She realized how lame that sounded.

Said the cashier, “Yeah, right. That’ll be 38 dollars.”

Through the window, 15 said she saw the lady still getting into her car. She can’t remember anything except running out there, scattering people in her way.

A con artist, I thought to myself, sure as the dickens. They’re harmless until you corner them. At that moment, I thought to myself: Why oh why hadn’t I warned her about stuff like this? What kind of parent was I?

Stop! Wait!”  15 said as she raced toward the lady who, when she saw 15 coming, hurried a bit too much and fumbled just long enough with the door latch to slow her entry into the car.

“Stop!” 15 shouted again, as she ran. “You can’t do this!”

The lady was just pulling her legs into the car as 15 got there. Fifteen said she couldn’t think of anything else to do except grab one of the lady’s leg and start pulling on it as she was driving away.

Just like I’m pulling yours.

Just like 15 pulled ours.