It was a long anticipated summer vacation to California for our family; two parents and two daughters. We traveled in a pickup camper to Southern California and Mexico. After a week on the beach in Mexico and a stop at the San Diego Zoo and Disneyland, we headed north to San Francisco.
My daughters and I were anxious to meet my husbandís cousin and childhood playmate, Joyce, and her family in San Jose. Along the way, we stopped at San Franciscoís Fishermanís Wharf for a delicious fish dinner. Then, we stopped for gas and asked directions to San Jose before making the hour-long drive to Joyce and Charlesí home where we were expected that evening.
Everything seemed fine until we arrived. We opened the door of the camper and called the girls. No one answered. The girls were nowhere to be found. We stood in stunned disbelief before breaking into tears. We told my husbandís cousins that we must have left them somewhere along the way but we didnít know where. It had taken us hours to make the drive because we had stopped so often to ask directions and kept getting lost.
These cousins came to our immediate rescue. They called the police. Charles stayed home to take phone calls while Joyce went with us to retrace our path. We stopped at every service station we could remember along the way back to San Francisco but didnít find our girls.
In San Mateo, a very understanding police officer helped us. He said he had been left as a boy and his parents had driven miles before they realized he was missing. He also confided that, after trying to locate the girls in nearby towns, the only place they could be that lost would be in San Francisco. He said it was such a big city that one station could have the girls while other stations were looking for them. As we neared the outskirts of San Francisco, he called to tell us he had found them. They were safe in a police station in the main part of the city and Joyce directed us to their location.
It was 2 a.m. and the girls had been lost for 8 hours. What a tearful reunion. It was a happy ending to a very scary ordeal. The policewoman said Fishermanís Wharf was not a safe place for little girls and that we were extremely lucky.
The girls told us their story as we drove back to San Jose. They had jumped out of the camper at the first service station to use the restroom while we were buying gasoline. Once they realized they had been left, they waited at that station for us to return. Eventually, when we didnít come back, they spoke to a police officer who stopped at the service station. He drove them to his police station to wait for us.
Cyndi, age 12, related how frightened she was when they got into the police car and the officer radioed headquarters that he had two juveniles. She cried because she thought that meant juvenile delinquents and they were being taken away to jail.
Chyrl, age 15, was the brave big sister who tried not to show her fear. She said she knew we would be back for them and all she had to do was protect her sister until we came back. As it got late, she wisely approached the police officer for help.
The police questioned them about being runaways and the girls feared that the officers didnít believe they had been accidentally left. The girls were wearing shorts and Mexican jackets bought during the time in Mexico, their hair was in disarray from sleeping, and they were barefoot. They must have looked like runaways.
We have always been grateful to those who took care of our girls and helped us while we struggled to find our way back to them that night. We especially appreciated these cousins who were so helpful during our crisis and afterwards welcomed us into their home to relax and enjoy our happy ending. It wasnít the way I hoped to meet them but the experience gave us a lasting bond.
We also made an important new travel rule; no one leaves the camper without notifying the others. And, we installed an open window between the camper and pickup where, on future trips, we called to each other after every stop to make sure everyone was onboard.
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