The next morning, we got up as usual, finding Mom getting ready for work, looking bleary-eyed as though she had a rough night. I went over and put my arms around her.
"Are you sure you feel like going in to work today?"
"Son, I appreciate your concern, but you must realize that many times, when you are facing responsibilities, you have no choice but to do what you must in order to survive. This job is survival for us. Yes, I feel okay. Please don't worry about me. All right?" She tipped up my chin with her index finger and smiled that wonderful smile of hers, her eyes glinting with tears. "Now, have your breakfast and don't forget your lunch. Be sure and don't forget to watch after your little brother and sister. Don't fiddle around after school and leave them to walk home alone. Okay?"
It went on that way for a couple of weeks. Mr. Hopkins hadn't been back to Sunday lunch since the last fiasco. Les had asked me the next morning after he came to lunch about it, and about what had happened to our Grandma. I just told him that she decided to leave that night, and that Ma hadn't discussed Mr. Hopkins with me.
We had begun going to Sunday School and church. It was interesting and we were learning a lot; it was hard not to wiggle around during church though. Ma kept shushing us when we would get restless.
Christmas was getting closer and I still wasn't much closer to figuring out what I was going to do for gifts. My birthday was getting close, too. Being born two weeks before Christmas kind of cut down on the gifts, if you know what I mean. I would soon be eleven and I was growing taller. I didn't realize that my life would soon change.
school, my teacher decided we were going to do a Christmas program for
our parents, so my class stayed after school for about fifteen or twenty
minutes. I was concerned about Les and Marie. It was my responsibility
to walk them to school and walk home with them.
I fidgeted so much that my teacher, Miss Greene, finally asked me, "Zebulon O'Hanlon! What is your problem? Are you sick?"
"No, ma'am. I'm supposed to walk my brother and sister home. I'm responsible for getting them home safely."
sure they must be waiting for you. We'll only be a few more minutes. Now
settle down. I'll go check for you. Class, take a seat and I'll be
right back. Mary Ann, you take names."
Oh, no! Not Mary Ann! She always wrote my name down! Now I'd be in trouble with Miss Greene, too.
teacher came back with her face wreathed in smiles. They are waiting for
you, just like they were supposed to. Now let's go over this program
once more, class."
Fifteen minutes later, she let us go.
I thought. I opened the school door and saw it was snowing again. Maybe
our Ma would make some snow cream for us. That was the poor man's ice
cream, and so good. I could just taste it on my tongue as I thought
around, I didn't see Lester or Marie. Where were they? Running around
the school house, I looked and shouted their names, my heart in my
throat, and beating wildly in my head.
"Marie, Lester! Where are you? Are you playing at hiding from me? Come on, we're gonna be late gettin' home!"
around shouting till my throat was hoarse; no Marie or Lester answered.
Then I ran toward home as fast as my legs could carry me, slipping and
sliding in the fresh snow that was piling up by the minute. I was making
excuses in my head as I ran.
I got home finally, with my clothes wet from the snow, and a chill in my heart when I opened the front door.
interior of the house was silent as a tomb. I called out my siblings'
names. No reply came. Now, I was terrified. What to do? Where was Rosie?
She must have stopped at one of her girl friend's homes. Now what?
ran next door to Mrs. Grogan's house and knocked on her door, waiting
impatiently as I heard her walker clicking across the hallway floor.
Zebbie?" she smiled. "What can I do for you? Are you here to shovel my
sidewalk for me again? Are you hungry? Would you like some cookies?"
ma'am. Thank you. I need to know if you have seen my little brother and
sister. They were supposed to wait for me at school to walk them home,
but they've disappeared and I can't find them anywhere." I was almost
sobbing when I asked her. I could just barely get out the words.
my, no... I haven't seen them since you all left this morning for
school. Maybe you'd better ask some of their friends or something. Maybe
they walked home with them. If I see them, I call your house. Okay?"
ma'am. thank you." I closed the door; my heart was heavy with fear and
grief. I just knew I wasn't ever going to see them again. Something
awful had happened to them. I had heard about other kids disappearing
and wondered how I was going to tell my Ma and Rosie.
lived in a relatively safe neighborhood, I thought. We even went to a
neighborhood school with people we knew, walking along with us to
school. How could this happen? I had to get over to a neighbor's house
where Marie and Lester often played and see if they were there.
I ran down the street and knocked on the door of the corner house.
Freddy Turner opened the door and looked at me with surprise on his
"Zeb! What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Quick! Tell me, are Marie and Lester here? Have you seen them this afternoon after school?"
"No... they're not here. I had to stay home today, cause I have a cold. I haven't seen them. Sorry."
Now I was really worried. Where could they be?
back to the house, crying as I went, I was really scared inside. What
was going to happen now? How could I tell Ma? What should I do?
ran inside and picked up the phone. "And, Betty, you should have seen
her hair! It was absolutely an awful shade of red!" Oh, no, Mrs. Jenkins
was on the party line with one of her friends. I'd never get through
unless I could get her to hang up.
Mrs. Jenkins, this is Zebulon O'Hanlon, and I really need to use the
phone. Could I please? It is an emergency, or I wouldn't ask."
what kind of emergency could a child have anyway. Where is your mother?
Why isn't she at home? Oh, has she had an accident? What's happened?
Did she trip and fall when she was on her way home from working at that
grocery store?" she snickered.
"Please, could I just have the phone for a couple of minutes? Then I'll let you back on for as long as you need it...please?"
all right, if you insist! Honestly, the manners of some young people
are just unbelievable! I'll check with you later, Betty! Don't go
anywhere! I have a lot more to tell you!"
heard them click the phone and then got the dial tone. I dialed Miss
Greene's house, and then when she answered the phone, I heard the faint
click which meant Mrs. Jenkins was listening in.
Greene, this is Zebulon. Could you please tell me what my brother and
sister were doing this afternoon when you went outside to check on them?
Did you see anyone else besides them?"
Zebulon? What's wrong? There were some other children out there, too,
and they were all scooping up the fallen snow and throwing snowballs at
one another. They were having a great time. I saw some parents stopping
by to pick some of them up, maybe to go shopping for Christmas. But I
didn't really have time to ask any questions and I didn't notice
anything wrong. Why do you ask? Weren't they waiting for you when you
I began crying and could hardly speak for the tears choking my throat.
"No, ma'am. Nobody was out there, and I can't find them anywhere! I'm at home all alone. What am I going to do?"
"I'll be right over, Zeb. Don't let anyone else into your house, except your sister. We'll talk as soon as I get there. Okay?"
must have run all the way, because within five minutes, she was there,
knocking on my door. It was beginning to get dark and I flipped on the
As soon as I opened the door,
Miss Greene stamped the snow from her feet and then rushed in. She took
me by the shoulders and said, "Okay, Zebulon, we need to think this
through rationally. Where have you looked for your brother and sister?
What else have you done? Have you noticed any suspicious looking
strangers hanging around?"
I checked at Freddy's house where they sometimes go to play and they
weren't there. I called you and I also checked next door at my
neighbor's house. She always seems to know what is going on around here.
She has nothing to do but look through her windows all day, I think."
was sniveling and sniffing trying to keep the stuff from running down
my upper lip. Miss Greene gave me her handkerchief and I blew my nose
and handed it back to her. "Thank you," I said.
"You're welcome. Now, Zebulon, we need to contact your mother and where is your older sister?"
been babysitting for the Davises after school. They live about three
blocks over. My Ma is going to kill me!" I began crying again.
"We need to contact the police, too, as soon as we can," MIss Greene continued.
My teeth began chattering and Miss Greene noticed how wet my clothes were from all the running I had done in the snow.
you need to run to your room and change into some dry clothing. In the
meantime, I'll call your sister. What is the telephone number where she
"It's 2537. Oh, she'll be so mad at me.. and so will my Ma!"
"Stop crying, Zeb! We'll find them. Now go change and I'll call your sister to see if they went to where she is baby-sitting."
gave me new hope. Maybe they had gone there! As I ran to change my
clothes, I heard Miss Greene had already picked up the phone to call my
sister. "Madam, could I please use the phone? I'm sorry to interrupt
your conversation, but it is an emergency."
When I returned a couple of minutes later, she was just hanging up the phone.
sorry, Zebulon." she said, worriedly. "Rose hasn't seen them either.
Now we need to go down to the grocery store and tell your mother.
Perhaps they went down there. Do you think they might have?"
really doubted it, but it wouldn't hurt anything to check. I really
dreaded telling my Ma. What would she do to me and how would we ever
find Lester and Marie? What if they had been kidnapped? I didn't realize
at the time how very guilty Miss Greene was feeling, too.
(To be continued)