28: Just Wait

28: Just Wait

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Just Wait

Good things come to those who bait.

~Author Unknown

“If I have to come in here again, you’re going to be in trouble. Now, go to sleep!”

I heard my bedroom door slide shut. I guess Dad wasn’t kidding this time. After the sound of his footsteps grew silent, I peeked out from underneath the blankets. With my flashlight on low beam, I read the hands on my desk clock: 12:55 AM. Whew — a close one. Dad had made three walkthroughs already this evening. How did he know I was still awake? I had taken the usual precautions: door closed, curtains pulled, nightlight unplugged, no squirming around on the bed. In fact, I was hardly making a sound. Maybe all fathers have X-ray vision or something. But sleep now? No way! In a few hours we would leave for a week’s vacation at my favorite place: Palomar.

Palomar Mountain State Park in Southern California offered my family the perfect getaway, with its majestic sugar pines, observatory, and fish that were always hungry. The best camping spot was the one closest to Doane Pond, where I only had a short hike to the fishing hole. This little pond provided the best trout fishing I’d ever seen. Well, that’s what my dad always said, and I agreed with him. We always filled our stringers when we fished at Palomar.

Dad even allowed me to explore the park by myself, as long as he or Mom could see my location. Besides, there was no way to get lost. I could view the trail, campground, and pond from almost any angle. Although I was only seven at the time, I couldn’t have felt more secure.

One afternoon, I rushed down to the fishing hole to stake out a good spot for Dad and me before the evening crowd showed up. I had made the trip from the campsite a dozen times without any problems, so I hardly needed to look twice. Catching a limit of fish was easy for a disciplined angler like me. My Eagle Claw pole and Mitchell reel assured my success. With any luck, I would have a stringer full of fish by the time Dad showed up.

About the time I should have passed the meadow, I realized something was wrong. The pond was nowhere in sight. When I glanced back over my shoulder, I noticed the campground had disappeared as well. Now I had a problem. I was lost!

I knew better than to keep walking. My father had always said, “If you ever get lost, just stay where you are and wait. I’ll be along directly.” Using a nearby post as a backrest, I sat down and waited. I was still waiting as the sun dipped low on the horizon and the evening chill crept in.

Finally, a forest ranger drove by in his patrol truck. He stopped in front of me.

“Hey kid, have you seen a boy about your age?” he asked. “Well, he’s missing and his family is worried about him.”

Smiling back at the ranger, I shook my head in a silent “no.” Before I could think of anything else to say, the pickup rambled down the road and disappeared into a trail of dust. Since I considered myself lost already, it was fortunate the ranger didn’t enlist my help with the search. Still, I wondered why he never asked if I were the boy for whom he was searching.

It was almost dark when a big man rounded the corner with a slow but steady pace. It was Dad. My father came looking for me just as he said he would. I felt so secure that night as we headed back to camp, his arm wrapped tightly around my shoulder.

I found out later that the park ranger didn’t believe anyone could get lost sitting by a signpost that read “Doane Valley Campground.” My dad only grinned when he saw me by a sign pointing the way back to our campsite. He never laughed about it though, because I had patiently waited as he instructed.

Dad is gone now, and I never got to thank him for rescuing me that night. I guess some cancers work that way, taking fathers away unexpectedly. The chaplain at the funeral service said my dad went on to a better place. I’m no expert on all this hereafter stuff. Still, from what I hear, Heaven is a pretty big place. It might take a while for newcomers to get their bearings sorted out. So Dad, if you’re feeling a little lost up there, just sit down by one of those pillars and wait. One of these days, I’ll be along directly.

~Charles E. Harrel

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