The Strangers Who Saved Me

From the mid-1960’s until 1987, one of the most popular shopping malls around Pittsburgh was Allegheny Center Mall in the North Side neighborhood of town.  It was a basic rectangular two-story design complete with an indoor, two-level parking garage directly under the mall.  I remember as a boy my brother Dan and I would tag along when our mother and our grandmother decided to shop there.  They had a variety of stores there, but one of the places I remember spending a lot of time in was Sears.

Even though I was very young in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I remember the vibe Sears had compared to the modern-day big box purgatory it has become.  The Sears of 35 years ago had the department store atmosphere of Target mixed with the product quality of Kohl’s.  It was a much nicer place to shop back then, and my grandmother loved to take her time and look at everything when she ventured out with us.

As a four-year-old in 1979, my grandmother’s appetite for perusing wore heavy on my level of patience, which of course back then was none.  I remember on occasion my mother yelling at me to remain close to her, fearing that I would run off and become lost in the store.  Around this time I developed an unhealthy habit of crawling under circular clothing racks and hiding in the middle of all the items on the rack.  Winter coats were my favorite; the added bulk allowed for a better hiding spot.

On one occasion just prior to Christmas in 1979, I decided to hide among the winter coats.  My mother and grandmother were apparently distracted by something and did not notice I was missing.  After a few minutes under the clothing rack, I noticed it became very quiet.  Upon crawling out of the fixture, I realized I was alone in that particular area of Sears.  Panicked and afraid of getting in trouble, I ran in between the clothes racks in hopes of catching up with my family before they knew I wandered off.  A good plan set forth by a four-year-old, but there was one problem:

I ran the opposite direction from them.

I can still remember vividly standing in a main side-aisle with the tile floor near the first-floor entrance to the mall from Sears.  I wondered if my family walked out into the mall to shop at other stores.  Completely terrified of all of the strange people around me and knowing that this was truly the first moment in my life that I was on my own, I stood there and started to cry.  A few seconds later, I heard a man’s voice:

“Hey little guy, it looks like you are lost.”

He was probably twenty-five but no older than thirty.  He had short, wavy brown hair typical of that era with a light brown coat and wore eyeglasses.  A woman was with him, presumably his girlfriend or wife.  She was about the same age, wore bell-bottom jeans and had long, straight brown hair.  I couldn’t convey my thoughts on attractiveness at the time, but I remember she was very pretty.  It was noticeable.

I confided to the man that I indeed was lost.  During this, I remembered him talking to me at my level, getting down on one knee to talk to me face-to-face.  It was unconsciously comforting and I remember reading from multiple stories through the years that children’s television pioneer and advocate Fred Rogers would do the same thing while talking to children.  Born out of this moment of fear, I have always tried to talk to children in the same manner when comforting them and to let them know that they have my full attention.

I never spoke to the woman, but I remember the three of us didn’t move from that spot right away.  I don’t know why, but it could have been they were hoping my family would arrive to see me, or the woman was informing an employee of my situation.  I only spoke to the man.  Apparently he learned from me that I became lost from my mom in Sears, so a plan was hatched to walk back into Sears instead of taking me out into the mall.

The man picked me up.  He stated that the three of us will go back into Sears, and when I saw my mom, I would point to her right away.  I calmed down a little bit at this point knowing that there was a chance I would get to see my family again.

The most vivid part of this tale is when we rounded the bend on the same side aisle I ran parallel to a few minutes earlier.  Looking ahead of us, I saw my mother, grandmother and my brother’s stroller with him inside of it.  It was one of the only times I remember my mom running.  My grandmother would have if she could, but she was pushing Dan in the stroller.  The man asked if this was indeed my mother, and I told him that it was her.

My mom expressed her thanks to the man and woman for bringing me back to her.  Mom told me many times over the years that this moment was one of the most frightening ordeals she encountered in her life.  It was ten minutes of time, but to her each minute felt like an hour.  She never got their names, but she will always remember them.


I hope that somehow in this universe there is a way I can personally say thanks to that man and woman who kept me safe in a time of complete vulnerability.  Maybe without knowing, I already crossed paths with them, helping them out in a time of need.  I know how old they would be now and I wonder if they stayed together, having a family of their own.

Without knowing it at the time of our encounter nearly forty years ago, I might have helped them at that very moment.  Perhaps, that look of sheer terror on my face stuck in their memories, and when it became time for them to have children of their own, they kept their kids close to them when going to public places.


On My 15,146th Day (In Iambic Pentameter)

Raised in a town known for steel and rebirth,

The product of parents who choked on its ashes,

Groomed to be virtuous among the broken and strife

Yet fell–engrossed in the fears of my home and its streets.


The awkward transition to grow mature and with purpose,

Wasting my youth in attempts to find manhood,

Searching six years beyond broken and lost,

A path was made clear through the trials and the errors.


The feeling of love brought forth a new passion,

True to my heart I pushed on through rough waters,

Intent on a life to expand my forced boundaries,

Content to pursue my dreams in tight quarters.


My son is my rock, my ground is kept stable,

His pursuits are now mine, my goals are left burning,

Purpose was found, my life loved while held down,

He will know my mistakes, shared space will bring triumph.

December 7, 1966 — My Father At Pearl Harbor

Today is the 75th anniversary of one of America’s darkest hours, the attack on Pearl Harbor naval base by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  The attack killed over 2,400 Americans and wounded nearly 1,200.  It destroyed almost the entire American fleet stationed in Hawaii, which led to the United States entry into World War II.

My late father was in the United States Navy and was stationed at Pearl Harbor between 1966 and 1968, which allowed him to be there during the 25th anniversary of the attack.  Dad remembered that day to be a Sunday because he had no obligations at base during the early morning hours on December 7.  Being a history fanatic and understanding the weight of the day, he decided to walk alone around the base when the attack would have commenced in 1941. Dad didn’t think his fellow mates would show the same level of reverence as he did.

At 7:48 a.m., Dad looked out to the mountains to the north, where the first wave of Japanese planes were detected.  He then turned to the south toward Iroquois Point and Mamala Bay where many of the 353 planes approached when the attacks were launched in two waves.   Dad couldn’t believe that twenty-five years prior he would have been standing in the middle of absolute hell.  It was a sunny morning in 1966, a clear blue sky with the usual amount of activity that he became accustomed to there.

Dad told me he did a lot of standing around that morning, staring into the skies above and the land around him, trying to imagine the nightmare in his own mind.  He had three senior officers on base who were at Pearl Harbor on that infamous day when they just started out as seamen in the Navy.  They lived that nightmare.  Dad didn’t know them and he wasn’t going to search for them in hopes of hearing their own personal accounts of December 7, 1941.  It’s certainly a day to remember in America, but maybe those officers would have liked to forget that day.

Today we remember those Americans we lost 75 years ago.  I give thanks for the active military members we have today and the countless veterans that served over the years.  Their dedication to the United States, duty as a service member and their dedication to serving their communities post-military (Police, Fire, National Guard, etc.) is greatly appreciated by me and my family.

Sending E-mails To My Late Father

A few years back, my father suddenly passed away.  Compared to other father/son relationships we had a typical bond but we were certainly two completely different minded individuals.  Despite this slight disconnect and as I found out later a lack of transparency, Dad and I always had great conversations about the day-to-day activities in our lives.  In those moments, Dad gave me great advice and peace of mind even though he struggled finding his own peace of mind for most of his life.

In the first year after his death, I often found myself talking out loud to Dad about many different events that occurred in my life since I lost him.  I found it very therapeutic when I sought his advice even though I knew I wasn’t going to receive a straightforward answer from beyond.

Shortly after Dad died, my wife gave birth to our son, which would have been his first grandchild.  I always brought my son up in the conversations with the air around me, hoping somehow that Dad could listen to what I was saying.  Life became busier and tiresome when constantly attending to a newborn baby, so my conversations aimed at Dad waned.

Two years ago this month on the day which would have been his 71st birthday, I decided to send an e-mail to Dad’s old America Online account.  I loved how he hung on to that account years after we all had those ubiquitous AOL addresses in the middle of the 1990’s.  With an e-mail address like that one would think Dad had no idea how to transition into the digital age.  He shall not be judged; Dad was a “Napster Master” at the age of 56 and later in life he loved his fantasy football online.  Dad drove my mom nuts with his hours of roster moves every week during the NFL season.

In the e-mail I talked about how I love my family, that I was proud to be his son and a few personal family details that Dad and I could only have a conversation about.  When I sent the e-mail, I could still hear his voice offering advice on the phone or when I used to visit home more often.  It turned out the e-mail address was still active because I did not get a delivery failure message.  I’d like to think he still checked his e-mail somewhere close to my presence.

Since that first e-mail I’ve sent four more in the last two years.  They’ve all kicked back to me so it seems Dad’s AOL account has been taken off of the grid.  Unless ALL of AOL is off of the grid!  But it doesn’t matter to me if Dad can’t read the messages I intended for him, what’s important to me is the peace I get in composing those e-mails.  Collecting my thoughts and sending them to Dad remind me of the nights we talked in my bedroom about the challenges of growing up while watching the old 12:30 Late Night With David Letterman show on NBC.  They remind me of the phone conversations we had when I first moved out on my own.  They remind me of the time when he found out he was going to be a grandfather.  Tangible words on the screen that I would have said to Dad in person.  Words that were fading from my consciousness due to a lack of sleep, an increase in children’s television viewing and the inability to simply find time to relax.

I miss Dad, but I was blessed to have him in my life all of these years.  Occasionally I will get a hint that Dad is watching me from afar but at the same time close by.  Other times I don’t.  I assume he’s downloading free music somewhere when he’s not around.  Pretty soon I’ll send him another e-mail since his grandson is going to turn 3 in less than a month.  I’ll talk about a variety of topics and ask him a few questions about the problems I’m facing in 2016.

If I don’t get a reply to my questions I understand.  It’s the start of fantasy football season.