Old Women, Escalators, and Security Guards
Lana McFather


            As a young child, the highlight of my life was to go shopping with my parents. Living in a rural area meant that shopping trips were rare, so it was a treat to load into the car and make the forty-five minute trip to Albany, Georgia, the location of the nearest K-mart and JCPenney. This was before the days of Walmart and shopping malls. On one such occasion, my parents and I made a much-anticipated trip to shop for a holiday dress for the upcoming Christmas Sunday service.


            On the trip over, I entertained myself by pinching and making faces at my baby brother, Aubrey, who was one year old at the time. I dearly loved my brother, but five year olds have to entertain themselves in some way, and my way frequently caused him grief. I was a mischievous little imp with cropped brown hair worn in the fashionable five-year-old shag and large blue eyes that twinkled when I smiled. My daddy’s darling, I thought everyone loved me like he did. I had a strong will and was relentless when I wanted something. “Just like a bulldog puppy with a bone in its mouth,” my mother once said, “when she gets something in her head, she won’t let go.”


            Once we arrived at JCPenney’s Department Store, my father, who only enjoyed shopping for fishing tackle and cowboy boots, thoughtfully volunteered to stay in the car with Aubrey while my mother and I searched for the perfect dress. I remember well the escalator-the horrible monster machine that would eat a child if she did not cling desperately to her mother. My mother had to physically pick me up and place me on the step because I was so afraid that I would fall under the step and go to the escalator underworld. In dreaded anticipation, I watched as we got closer to the top, knowing that I would have to get off. I trembled in anxiety-finally mama once again lifted me and placed me on solid ground.


            As we searched through endless rows of dresses, I spotted a lovely rag doll on a metal shelf underneath a rack of dresses that were identical to the dress the doll was wearing. Of course, I begged for this dress, assuming the doll came with it and dreaming of how precious we both would be in matching dresses. I pictured myself going to Sunday school sporting my new dress and doll, being the envy of all the girls. But the dress was not churchy enough for my mother, so we moved on to another rack of more spiritual dresses.


            “At least buy me the doll,” I cried, but to no avail. She was on a mission, and it did not include a rag doll.


            “Put the doll back!” Mama ordered, and I obeyed.


            As Mama continued her quest, I tiptoed back to the coveted treasure, determined to get the doll. I stared longingly at the doll, standing in front of the rack, swaying back and forth, my hands in the pockets of my red corduroy dress. I thought about it long and hard-I was desperate! I had to have that doll-I would absolutely die if I didn’t! My life would be complete if I only had that five-dollar rag doll! Finally, I resolutely lifted my chin and picked up the rag doll. I looked around carefully to make sure no one was watching, lifted up my dress, pulled out the waistband of my leotards, and stuffed the beautiful rag doll inside. I slinked slowly back to my mother and grabbed her hand. Why she did not notice that I looked pregnant is beyond me. I sighed in delighted triumph when she finally said, “I can’t find anything, Lana; let’s go.”


            My mother placed me in the back seat of our 1969 red Ford Galaxy and went back inside to do more shopping, this time for herself. Quietly, I pulled out the treasured doll and played with her when my father noticed the new plaything bobbing up and down in the rearview mirror.


            “Where did you get that?” he asked.


             “Uh . . . from in there,” I replied, pointing my short, chubby finger at the Penney’s store.


            “Hhmmpph,” he retorted. “I sent your mama in there to buy you a dress, not a toy.”


            Good! He believed me. I was safe!


            When Mama returned, he reprimanded her for buying me a toy instead of a dress, and I knew I was in for it. My mother turned around and with a look of anger and shock exclaimed, “Give me that doll, young lady.” She marched me right back into JCPenney’s and took me straight to the meanest, oldest, grayest, thinnest witch, I mean, woman, that I had ever seen. She was dressed all in black, wore her silver hair piled into an old-fashioned bun, and had a hideous wart on her face. This lady showed no mercy, eyeing me with disgust as my mother described the villainous theft her daughter had committed. I just knew I was destined for federal prison-or to the escalator underworld, at the very least. The old hag lectured me for a full ten minutes pointing a spiny finger in my face, ending her diatribe by threatening to give me to the tall, black security guard who stood nearby if I ever committed such a deed again. I felt terrible and was mortally afraid. I resolved never to commit such a heinous act again-never to disappoint my mother and father like that again-never to have to face the JCPenney Ice Witch again. In bitter and remorseful tears, I reluctantly gave back my ragdoll, said I was sorry, and clenching my mother’s hand, walked slowly away, all the time distrustfully eyeing the security guard and dreading the long, agonizing ride down the evil escalator.


            My parents never mentioned the incident to me again-maybe they forgot about it. But I never forgot the lessons I learned that day. First, always obey your parents; second, never take anything without paying for it; and finally, never trust old women, escalators, and security guards.