It was a pretty good record. In the four seasons I’d worked on the mountain, we didn’t have to deal with a lost child until the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend of my last season.
Not long after the other clerk went to lunch, I saw Cindy from the parking lot leading a kid up to the Mercantile. They were walking slowly, and it was obvious to me there was a problem.
The kid was big but probably only eight or nine years old. He wore one of those sun hats with cloth hanging in the back to protect the neck. The hat was khaki and too large for his head. When he looked at me, his dark eyes were huge with fear.
While the parking lot in front of the Mercantile had been busy all morning, things inside the store had been slow. Things got busy in the Mercantile right at noon. Moments after the other clerk went to lunch, shoppers swarmed the store. Once the line formed at the cash register, all I could do was ring up purchases. I couldn’t help anyone find a size or answer questions about merchandise, much less watch out for shoplifters. I could only scan barcodes and hope the people in the store would behave like upstanding citizens.
The other clerk had been gone about twenty minutes when I saw Cindy walk up with the kid who turned out to be lost. About five minutes after I saw Cindy and the kid walk up, the other clerk came back into the store.
There’s a lost child, she said breathlessly.
Call the police, I said, reaching for the phone.
No. His family is still here. The car is still here, she told me.
The car was parked in the main parking lot. The boy and his family had gotten separated on the trail, the boy said, when he fell behind the group. When he made his way to the family car, it was empty. Now it was just a matter of waiting for his family to return.
I’m going to sit with him at the car until his family comes back, the other clerk said.
The Mercantile was still packed with shoppers. I easily had six people lined up at the register. No one was watching for shoplifters. No one was helping customers.
Really? I wanted to ask. The kid couldn’t sit at the front of the parking lot next to Cindy and the other parking lot attendant? He couldn’t sit there fully supervised and watch for his family? He needed a one-on-one adult to sit with him next to the family car? Was this the best allocation of the Mercantile’s person power at a time when the store was packed with customers?
Instead of questioning my coworker, I shrugged. When the wife of The Big Boss Man says she wants to go sit with a lost kid until his parents show up, The Big Boss Man’s wife sits with the kid. I just kept ringing up purchases, not even worried about what might be going on behind my back.
The other clerk/wife of The Big Boss Man wasn’t gone as long as I feared she would be. The kid’s parents were angry at him when they were reunited. (I hope they were feeling relief laced with anger and not anger alone.) I guess they thought he should have kept up with the group. Someone should probably tell those adults that a group is only supposed to hike as fast as its slowest member.