"Every government interference in the economy consists of giving an unearned benefit, extorted by force, to some men at the expense of others." Ayn Rand

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Christmas I'll Never Forget

I think that lots of people were expecting this Christmas to be a different type of Christmas than they were used to. The economy, especially, was the number one reason. People are cutting back, they just cannot afford to go overboard (and compete with themselves on the number of gifts they gave last year vs. this year). I include this family in that group. Christmas gifts have come all year, in the form of car insurance being paid, cell phone bills being paid, supporting at least three or four full-time employees at Peninsula Auto through our wonderful, person, cash-for-clunkers (that we are still having repaired at regular intervals). If this goes on, Peninsula may be able to afford to open a second location.

Then Tuesday night, five days ago, everything changed. An 11 year old girl, Sarah Foxwell, went missing. An amber alert was issued, there was already a suspect in custody. It was cold and it was dark. It was three days before Christmas. She was wearing a tee shirt and red pajama pants with Christmas trees on them. The fact that her pj's had Christmas trees on them made it even more poignant for me. This was a girl who was thinking about Friday; I remember being 11, and as Christmas approached, I was hard pressed to think of anything else.

Tuesday night turned to Wednesday night. Wednesday night turned to Thursday. Searches all over the county. Rumors were spread, and then discounted. Professionals came from all over to help with the search; the community wanted to help, but Sheriff Lewis asked that we wait, and let the pros do it.

And still it was just so cold at night. I couldn't get the image of the tee shirt and the red pajama pants with the Christmas trees out of my mind.

I spent Thursday getting ready for Friday. Last minute gifts, cooking as much as I could cook to bring dinner over and celebrate with Mom and Dad Demers, and Celine, Steve and Leah, who were coming from New York. Thursday night we went out for a family dinner, all of us that could (missing both Maggie, who was about three blocks away from the restaurant, working, and Katie, who was actually working at the restaurant we ate at). We left the restaurant; Sheriff Lewis gave a press conference. He was calling for volunteers to help search. Whoever could, please show up at Shorebirds Statium at 7 a.m. the next morning, Christmas morning.

I talked about it with Richard and Max; we all wanted to go and help. I spoke with Maggie and Roger, they wanted to come. We all thought that it would be a small number that could turn out; we wanted to do something. I made an executive decision that Richard should stay home; he had taken Anthony for a short walk in the cold, and it really really bothered his hand. We weren't sure what conditions we would be walking in, we weren't sure how long it would take. I know it bothered him to be left behind to "man the house"; it bothered me to leave him alone on Christmas morning, to wake up to an empty house.

We left at 6:40 a.m., stopping to pick up a friend of Max's on the way. I was impressed, because I don't know that I would have done that at 18 years old.

As we came upon Shorebirds Stadium, I felt my chest tighten and the hairs stood up on my arms. There were so many cars there already...so very many people had come to search. We parked the car, and got on line. Maggie and Roger arrived and joined us; as we waited to sign in, we passed boxes and boxes of food, cases of water and soda, the Station 7 restaurant's mobile unit serving hot food to the searchers. So many members of law enforcement, almost all of them looking tired, none of them sitting down. We signed in, and went inside the stadium. Lots of people were there. Sleepy people. Anxious people. Black people and white people. Old people and young people. More men than women, and quite a few young people. Nervous laughter, quiet conversations. We heard from the sheriffs, the troopers and the county attorney. We were going to separate into groups of 10 or so, and would be given our areas to search. Seems simple, right.

The logistics of arranging such a large search with professionals must be daunting. Doing it with all those professionals, and then adding in 3000 untrained volunteers must have seemed an almost impossible task. But it got done in about 2 hours. We stood as patiently as we could and waited; everyone was just so anxious to just do something.

Finally we got our assignment. We were going to search Perdue, the headquarters and the processing plant off of Old Ocean City Road. We loaded into cars and drove over there. It was the four of us, plus about 25 other people. We split up; our group searched the fence line, the woods next to the plant, the railroad tracks. We were told not to touch anything that we found; we were to look for anything that looked like it didn't belong, anything that was out of place. We came upon a drainage ditch that was frozen almost completely over. We stopped and looked at it, and were trying to find the reason for the non-frozen part. There was a steel plate covering an access to the ditch, and I went and lifted it; all the while I'm thinking in my head "my god what if she is under here I don't want to see this". But she wasn't. She wasn't in the dumpsters, or in the brambles. She wasn't on the side of the bypass. We walked and walked, and I was so scared that I would find her or I would miss something that would lead to her. We walked through snow, and mud, and water. We just kept walking and looking; poking and peering. We found nothing. Between the two groups, we searched the whole property. We made it back to the cars and were told that searches were called off for the day. We were to report back to the stadium and check in, and then we could leave.

We got home around 1:30 I think. Went into ninja cooking mode, mashing potatos with one hand, frosting a cake with the other one. All of us just wanted to sleep; we were tired, but I think we just wanted to escape what we had done that morning. The last thing we wanted to do was go anywhere...but it was just what we needed. We brought dinner over, we had shrimp and stuffed mushrooms. Ham and potatoes. Cake and pie and more pie. And wine. A few extra glasses of red wine.

They found her around 4 pm. Max got a text message saying that they had found her. I told him not to believe it until it's confirmed....which it was a few minutes later. It was the ending I expected, but one that I hoped would not come. Someone said that she was found in an abandoned chickenhouse. That was oddly comforting news to me; I thought again of the cold, the rain and the dampness.

Lots has been said about her family; this is not the time for judgment. This is the time for taking care of our child, and taking care of all of our other children. Use your anger and frustration to let your elected officials know what happened here in Salisbury, and let them know that things must be changed so this will never happen again.

I talked with God a lot yesterday morning, as we walked through forest, and briers and mud, through riverbanks,and along the bypass, and everywhere else we could see. He was there with us yesterday. For me, Christmas suddenly stopped being about things; Christmas was the people who came out to look for the little lost girl.