83: Finding Mrs. Whitebread

83: Finding Mrs. Whitebread

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Finding Mrs. Whitebread

An effort made for the happiness of others lifts us above ourselves.

~Lydia M. Child

On a chilly late afternoon in March 1993, my two oldest children, Tyler and Emily, waited in the car while I quickly retrieved my three-year-old, Jeremy, from his daycare. As he happily chattered about his day, I buckled him in his car seat and prepared to head toward home. Through the chatter, though, I heard a very clear voice in my mind, “Go to the ball field.”

My mental response was something on the order of “Huh?”

A moment later, I heard the same words, “Go to the ball field.” So strange, I thought, but so very definite. It wasn’t a request; it was a command.

The older kids were soon to start their T-ball season at a field just a block from where I sat in my idling car. Well, okay, I thought, that’s the only ball field I know of, and it’s only a block away. “Do you want to see where you’ll be playing ball?” was met with an enthusiastic response.

We turned in the opposite direction from our usual route home. In this previously industrial, urban neighborhood, this block was deserted and lined with boarded-up, brick buildings. As we went around the corner, I noticed an elderly woman walking slowly on the sidewalk past the old buildings, pausing and looking back and forth, up and down the street. As I slowed a bit to see her more clearly, she appeared to be somewhat bewildered.

I slowed the car and hesitated, yet continued to the field. After I showed the kids where they would be playing, I decided to turn the car around and see if the woman still appeared to be confused. As I pulled the car next to the curb, and before I had even fully stepped out of my car, she said, “Can you help me? I’m trying to go home.”

“Yes, ma’am, I’ll be happy to help you.”

After getting her settled in the front seat of my station wagon, I introduced myself and my children. She told me her name was Mrs. Whitebread. She wore an old overcoat that I suspected had once been her husband’s, and a flowered scarf covered what I could see was a tidy bun. I guessed that she was probably in her eighties. She gripped an old, black handbag and a small paper sack. I asked her where she lived, and she gave me an address on a street I didn’t recognize. She was sure she was very close to home, but I knew there was no street by that name in the immediate vicinity. She’d left home that morning around 10:00, she said, and walked to a hardware store that had tomato plants for sale.

When she told me where she had gone, I felt my breath nearly leave me. Judging from the house number she gave me, I knew that she had to have walked a few miles just to get to that store, and where I found her was at least a couple more miles beyond that. It was now about 4:00, and she had been walking all day. Having had no lunch, she must have been exhausted and hungry.

This was long before I had a cell phone and GPS, so I did the only thing I could. From the address she’d given me, we drove to the numbered cross street that would be closest to her home and then past block after block of named streets, most of them familiar to me. But I didn’t recognize hers. Surely I just hadn’t noticed the name of her street before. Block after block we went, and my concern grew that perhaps she didn’t know exactly where she lived, even though she had seemed so certain about her address. We continued on, driving slowly to enable both of us to get a good look at each street as we passed. We traveled much farther east than she thought we needed to, but she suddenly began to get excited. “Yes, we’re almost there.” We crossed a major street, and she looked relieved. “It’s right up here,” she said. I turned onto her street and pulled to a stop in front of a small, red-brick bungalow. Her clearly panicked neighbor rushed out of the house next to hers.

“Mrs. Whitebread, where have you been? We’ve been so worried about you!”

“I went to buy tomatoes,” she replied. And with that, she turned and walked into her house.

We never saw Mrs. Whitebread again, but my now-grown children still talk about that day more than twenty years ago when “Mom heard the voice” to go to the ball field.

~Kimberly Ross

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