Close Call Near Closing Time
“I’m hungry!” said my daughter when she was about ten.
“Me, too!” echoed my eight-year-old son beside her in the backseat of our station wagon.
“We’re almost at West Lorne, kids. We’ll stop at the service centre and get our supper at McDonalds.”
We were on our way from our home in Kitchener, Ontario, to spend the weekend with my parents. They still lived on the farm where I grew up in southwestern Ontario, a little less than a three-hour drive away. I hadn’t taken the time to prepare a meal before we left, and it was well past our usual supper time.
Once we were served, we found a quiet table behind a pillar, a fair distance from the food counter. We devoured our hamburgers in about three gulps. The kids were still hungry.
“Can we have some ice cream?”
I needed a cup of coffee for the road. “You wait here. I’ll be right back,” I promised, nervous that I was leaving them alone and virtually out of sight in a strange place.
Closing time must have been approaching. I vaguely recall the lights were somewhat dim, especially in the section we had chosen. Only one cashier remained. I was appalled at the length of the queue, but it was the only choice. As I waited, the line barely moved and kept growing behind me, along with my anxiety. I need to get back to my kids and onto the road. We won’t get to the farm until well past dark at this rate.
“Clatter, clatter, clatter, pause, clatter, clatter.”
The thundering noise got everyone’s attention. On my right, about 15 feet away from me and less than half way between the children and me, two young men in McDonald’s uniforms strained to expand a chain mail curtain that extended from the ceiling to the floor to create a formidable partition. They were obviously closing off the section where my children sat, out of their sight. I panicked!
“Stop! Stop!” I bellowed from where I was standing, my arms thrust out high in front of me—as if I were trying to bring six lanes of freeway traffic to a halt, all by myself. I had to get the men’s attention, and I did not want to give up my spot in the line.
They couldn’t hear me over the din. “Stop!” I yelled even louder.
Fortunately, another woman, who must not have had as great a vested interest in staying in the line as I did, came to my aid. She went over and tapped one of the men on the shoulder and pointed towards me. The two employees paused, along with the clatter. I’m sure everyone looked around to discover the reason for the sudden silence.
“I’m over here,” I continued to yell, motioning dramatically to my chest with both arms to emphasize the word, “here”. I gulped for air, so I could finish the sentence just as loudly, “and my children are over there,” pointing with a flourish towards their table to punctuate the word “there”. By this point, the kids were desperately searching for a serviette, a clamshell box–anything to hide their faces.
The men smirked a bit and gestured towards the other end of the metal curtain. They had purposefully left it open about three feet to allow for continuing access to the seating area. “Oh, thank you,” I gushed. I heaved a sigh of relief and turned my attention back to waiting in line, trying to make myself as inconspicuous as possible. When I finally returned to the table with the ice cream and my coffee, the kids couldn’t wait to get to the car.
My children are both grown now. That’s to be expected. I’m a senior, after all. They both moved away to other cities as young adults. That maybe doesn’t come as a surprise, either.
I now live near my son. When he sees me panic because I assume the unthinkable is about to happen, he has learned to check whether I’ve missed something obvious. More often than not, I have. All he has to say is, “I am over here!” and we both burst into laughter.
Even if I live to be a hundred, I suspect he will still remember this story to regale everyone at my birthday party. I’m stealing his thunder by telling it first.