Image Source: The Bowdoin Orient

The fog of time and the fact of events unfolding before an undeveloped mind have obscured most of the picture. But the pertinent details remain.

I was old enough to know better, but young enough to not know better. At age four or five, I got lost in Grand City Department Store, Brunswick, Maine. I was found in front of the store with a Wonder Woman coloring book in my hand. Red was my favorite color and crayon, and I loved coloring in Wonder Woman’s red earring. Ultimately on the same day I turned out to be a runaway and a thief.

This is my earliest memory. (My next earliest memory is of making Jiffy Pop before Super Bowl XIV – Steelers/Rams – and being in awe of quarterback Terry Bradshaw and terrified of linebacker Jack Ham and his toothless scowl. But that’s another story.) I remember feeling scared not knowing where my mom and dad were. I remember the unmistakable smell of a five-and-dime, that mysterious blend of potpourri, balsam spray, cigarette smoke and diner grease. I remember seeing 70s décor tiles on the back wall and the linoleum under my feet as I ran and ran, hopefully toward my parents.

And I remember trying to get outside, and I remember a woman walking up to me and saying, “That’s a heavy door. That’s a heavy door.” And she OPENED the door, letting me out onto the sidewalk with my accidentally-stolen treasure.

It must have been winter, because I remember my dad hugging me tight to his quilted navy blue nylon coat. I don’t remember if this was inside or out. I don’t remember being yelled at. I guess they were just so thankful to have me back safely. I think I had my coloring book with me in the backseat, but I don’t remember coloring.

And I remember feeling that something had happened, something bad, because I had upset my parents somehow. And I had done something that had made me scared. The safety of my insular world was shaken a bit that day. I’m now almost 40 and looking at this event across the lens of 35 years, but I still remember the dark shades of feeling, and this unease has informed my life more than I’ve realized.



  1. So vivid. And now when I read this I empathize with both the kid’s and parent’s perspective. Two different anxieties for the price of one. It’s bargain day at the five and dime.

    • I guess we all were winners that day.

      Well, except for me being scared shitless, and my parents being scared shitless and Grand City for being out a coloring book. Wait, I guess we all were losers that day.


      • The bond of losing together can sometimes feel like winning. At least that is what my middle school volleyball coach told us during our season-long perfect losing streak.

      • T-Ball, third grade was my defeated season. Solidarity.

  2. lily said:

    The photo sends me back to shopping with my grandma on a rainy day and being allowed to choose something out of one of the bins, which made the trinket seem a treasure. Your story, however, is like a nightmare. It must have been so scary for your parents and unsettling for you. Glad you are safe : ) ~ Lily

    • Glad I could bring the good stuff back for you, at least, Lily. Thanks for stopping in!

  3. Bryan,
    This was so well written.
    I was that parent AND that child.
    Well done.

  4. APOLOGIES….BRIAN with an I (eye) and not a Y (why).
    Forgive my folly………….

    • Hey, most of my co-workers call me Brain, so no worries. 😉 Thanks for comments, Jots: I can’t imagine going through it on the parental side.

  5. Madame Weebles said:

    This reminded me of when I got lost in Macys when I was about 5. I was terrified. I had wandered off in the ladies’ clothing section and all the clothing racks were twice my size so it was like being in a weird forest. My mom finally found me and we were both upset. Funny how those experiences stay with you.

    • GUH! Macy’s is a lot bigger than Grand City was! Yes, you don’t forget, do you?

  6. I got lost in a supermarket once when I was a kid and got my mum’s name called out over the tannoy. She’s been dining out on it ever since. Made me look like a right bad parent, she says, although really I’d just got engrossed in looking at something or other and she’d just kept on shopping.

    • BWAAHHH!!! Your mum has a right streak! Hilarious.

      I’m so glad you stopped by, thanks!

  7. I had a similar situation only it was with the large bins of candy Safeway had out, to me they looked free. You didn’t intentionally steal the coloring book, 5 year olds just follow instructions of adults – she let you, therefore you are suppose to be out! I look back at my childhood and can conjure up those same dark feelings. It’s interesting to me how the first 20 years of life stay with us and define us for the rest of our lives.
    Cheers Brian the Brain 🙂

    • Those are indeed the formative years…

      Good to see you, Edmonton, thanks.

  8. One time my brother got lost on a family trip at Disney World. Luckily we hadn’t ventured too far from where we lost him before my mom realized he wasn’t in line with us. My dad later found him by a tree.
    On another note, that looks like an awesome department store, especially the 99 cents sock bin!

    • Good thing for Disney trees! And yeah, bargains galore. This photo is the second incarnation of Grand City. I got lost in the first, because I’m a trailblazer like that.

      Great having you here, Dominique, thanks!

  9. Scary. Those feelings of terror. I don’t know who is more scared, the parents, or the child. I am more scared when it happens with my kids than I ever remember being when I was a kid.

    • guuhh…I’m not a parent, but if I were I’d be implanting GPS chips in me bairns skulls with a nail gun.

  10. Great story! I just had to laugh that part of your nightmare were the 70’s tiles beneath your feet!

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