I wouldn't call this a memory. I simply heard the story recounted so often that it feels like one. However, it is something that left my family stumped for a logical explanation...
It began when I was all of two, and my family had moved from the projects of Chicago to a small town. Back then, the new area was still under construction, and we were the seventh family to move in. Today the place is a bustling suburb, but back then it was still mostly fields, newly laid sod, and houses in various stages.
Those of you who have experienced moving day, with small children (the boys were 12, 7, and 6 and my sister was merely months old) know what a trial it can be. Add to this, we were not just 'city' kids, but innercity kids who were experiencing for the first time being able to leave the confines of the indoors without an adult in tow. We ran in and out so much, that my mother feared we'd wear the door clean off its hinges.
Naturally, my mother occupied with unpacking and caring for my sister, gave watch of me to my oldest brother, who passed the buck to the next oldest, who put the next one in charge of me. Of course, at 6, the care of a 2 year old fades rapidly in comparison of having an entire backyard to explore. My parents had sternly pointed out the boundaries of the yard, and the boys knew better than to stray. At two, I knew nothing, and so it was when my mother called us for lunch, I was not with my brothers.
They looked upstairs, and down. In packing crates, and under cabinets. The open field next to our house was quickly searched. But nowhere was a little girl to be found.
Doors were knocked on, my parents hoping I had made friends with someone's child and was there. But, no. No one had seen me. Older kids joined the search, and the police were summoned. Fathers returning from work quickly joined in, scouring the nearby construction sites. It was growing dark now, and my mother cried, fearing for me.
Suddenly, there was a sharp rap at the backdoor. Not the kind of rap made with a hand, but that of wood on wood. My mother flung open the door, praying, and there I was. "Look, Mommy! Santa!" I said, gesturing towards an old bearded gentleman, who stood a few feet back. My mother's breath caught - the slouched hat, the worn buck coat he wore, the heavy walking stick he held. Earmarks of Joe Courtney, the mountain man, who sometimes came into town when she was a child, back in Kentucky. He'd had a soft spot for kids, and if one was in trouble, you could count on Joe to use his tracking abilities to help find them. She called out to him to come in, she wanted to thank him, offer dinner, but he simply nodded in her direction and vanished! She swore that was the only way to put it. Just there one moment, gone the next.
His description didn't elicit any information from the neighbors, nor had anyone seen him before. The mystery only deepened that he knew exactly where I lived. The only thing I could tell my parents is I had seen a bunny and followed him. I had gotten lost and 'Santa' had found me. My mother often wondered aloud if maybe Old Joe had heard her and tracked her baby down.