The German Police are really nice and the German village of Alken is home to kind people. How did we discover this? How about a pop quiz? Did we (a) steal something from the grocery store (b) lose our son in the forest (c) get in a traffic accident (d) forget to pay for gas?
We decided to take a nice, long 11 km hike today because we have not been able to exercise that much for the last week because of reasons (Wiesbaden Fail or The Saga Continues). The kids did homework this morning, I tried to work on some blogs and ugly-cried a bit to Scott because I really suck at technology (I had just realized that I had not properly saved one of Ashley’s assignments) and we are very technology dependent at the moment.
We have landed by fate or the hand of God in some absolutely beautiful region of Germany. I don’t even know where we are anymore. It’s is a little village called Alken on the Mosel River and for the first time in over a week we were out hiking on a beautiful trail, my knees were even sweating a little bit.
I thought about my parents and how this must be the Germany that they experienced. We took delicious German bread and cheese on the trail and lots of pictures.
It was beautiful; we were getting exercise and looking forward to a home-cooked meal in our gorgeous and comfortable apartment, followed by cards and chocolate. Grant hiked ahead of us after our snack; Ashley, Scott and I stopped and enjoyed a double-wide Adirondack chair positioned to take in a beautiful view of pastures and trees and the valley below. We felt like we had found our Oberammergau in a different part of Germany.
This is the chair.
This is the view that goes with the chair.
We got up from the chair and continued down the trail. We passed multiple turnoffs without seeing Grant. He usually waits for us at turnoffs when he is hiking ahead of us. We hiked for about twenty minutes and came to a stop at a paved road. This must not be the right trail and so we turned around. We had passed at least three different possible turns. We backtracked, looking for the right trail and expecting to see Grant waiting for us around each turn because he usually waits for us. I had been worried for a good twenty minutes when Scott and Ashely headed down a possible trail and left me at a sign to wait in case Grant came looking for us. It was about 4:30 at that point and we hadn’t seen Grant since 3:45. They didn’t find him.
This was the last picture I took of Grant on our hike.
Ashley came back with new instructions from Scott while he ran down another possible trail. Scott is not a worrier. He is a “have faith in the world” type of guy, so when he starts running down a trail looking for his child, I start praying. Ashley and I went to the first possible turn that Grant could have taken and waited. Scott said he would whistle twice if he found Grant (he has a loud whistle). I looked at my watch, it was 5:00 pm and I told myself that I wouldn’t worry until 6:00. About twenty minutes later I head the double whistle and Ashley and I started running towards it. I expected to see Scott and Grant but there was only a sweat soaked Scott. He had run about a mile down the trail and met a woman walking her dog who said that she had seen Grant waiting at a parking area. Scott ran on looking for him but couldn’t find him so he backtracked, talking to the woman once again. She described Grant perfectly and said she would tell him to wait if she saw him.
The three of us jogged back towards where Grant was last seen at least an hour before. The woman with the dog was waiting by her car with a worried expression. She asked us how she could help, she knew the trails, and could she drive us around looking for him? She looked as worried as we felt. I was so touched by her kindness. Scott went with her to drive down the paved road that we had just crossed thinking maybe Grant had decided to walk on a more visible path so we could find him. Ashley and I hurried down the other option, the actual trail, my heart sinking as we passed trails leading into the now sinister looking forest. We jogged down the path calling for a few minutes until Ashley made me turn around. We got back to the parking lot just as Scott and our kind stranger returned, no sign of Grant on the road.
I could feel the clock ticking. It was six o’clock and the light was weakening. The trails were numerous, winding through fields and forests. The loop we had picked wandered far from the three tiny villages in the area. Grant was lost and we were miles from anyone who might help us. There was nothing to do but get to the end of the trail and hope he was waiting for us. We were running and jogging. I was praying and hoping that we would get to punish Grant at the end of the day. I thought about the email I had just sent my friend saying how we were all fine even though a little tired and frustrated after our days of wandering. I thought about the four of us setting off on the hike and only three of us returning. I was thinking about how nothing matters when you can’t find your child. I thought about the teenage girl that had been abducted and killed in Germany earlier this summer. I thought about all of the parents who have suffered through not knowing and then learning horrible news. I wondered what the night would bring.
We stopped a biker and another woman walking and neither of them had seen Grant. There was a sign to Alken, our village, 4 km. Scott and I made a plan. We would go back to the apartment, hoping Grant was waiting. If not, Scott would take the car and drive as much of the trails as he could and I would call the police. No sign of Grant at the apartment. Scott and Ashley left with the car. Erik, the son of the owner was here and I asked him to call his mom for me, she speaks English and I needed advice. Her advice was not that helpful, go to tourist information or call the police. I was fairly certain that Tourist Information would be closed, it was 6:30 now but we had been there before our hike to get a map and one of the girls spoke English. I have mentioned before that I love to practice speaking German, but not In this situation, all of my brain cells were working on other things. Tourist information was closed.
I was getting desperate. My kid was lost and I couldn’t even get help. I walked into a busy restaurant and up to a group of waiters and waitresses and asked if anyone spoke English. One girl spoke a little English and I explained my situation. I wanted to call the police and I needed help calling and translating. Another woman dialed the number and the younger waitress explained the situationa and then handed me the phone. Even in my heightened state, I was a bit amused at the conversation I had with the police officer. I asked him if he spoke English. He replied that he spoke a little English. I told him my 14 year old son was lost on the hiking trails and we hadn’t seen him for three hours. “Oh okay, give me your phone number and when he calls us, I will call you.” Let me try this again. “He doesn’t have a phone,” I explained. The gentleman replied, “Okay, well he will find a pub and call and then I will call you.” I tried again. I explained, “My son does not speak German and he does not know where he is, we just arrived last night.” Then he asked me, “So, what happened? You left him somewhere?” The guy was nice and obviously trying to calm a frantic mother down and of course we were having some communication issues. “We got separated on the hiking trail, he was hiking ahead of us.” The man replied, “It’s only been three hours, I can’t do anything. I will call you, what is your phone number and where are you staying?” I don’t even know the name of the place we’re staying and I don’t have a phone that works. I said, “It’s getting dark and you can’t do anything?” His helpful reply was, “It doesn’t get dark until 9 or 10 in Germany. I’ve been here long enough to know that it is plenty dark by 10. I imagined driving dark forest roads looking for Grant. We got disconnected. The kind waitress offered to call back for me but I knew that I needed a different approach. I ran back to our apartment.
There was a car in the driveway with the door opened. I thought, maybe Grant got a ride back from someone. I walked around the back of the house and met Eric. Is Grant here? No. Eric’s dad was there to pick him up. I explained the situation to him. I was completely at the mercy of strangers. I needed someone to help me. He was kind and patiently worked to understand the situation. He called the police for me and explained. He said they would come to the apartment. He would wait and translate. Eric found a map on his phone and I showed his dad where we had hiked, through forests and fields. He knew the place but seemed surprised that we had hiked such a long and isolated path. He reassured me that it was a safe place to be lost, no animals, doesn’t get too cold at night and there is no one around, only another small village in the opposite direction.
Scott and Ashley came back without Grant. I updated him, this is Eric’s dad and we’re waiting for the police. Eric’s dad showed Scott another road to drive where Grant may have ended up walking. Scott left. We waited. The police had to come from a different village about 30 km away and it was 7:30 by the time they arrived. They were kind. They wanted to see our passports, Grant’s picture. Eric’s dad explained the trails. Scott came back. It was surreal. The police wondered if we had another picture of Grant. We got the camera and they took a picture with their cell phone of one we had taken earlier in the day. Describe what he was wearing. Is he in good health? Does he need any medication? Did you have an argument? Does he have a Handy (cell phone)? That was the question of the day.
Here is the plan. The police told Scott to drive to the trailhead and wait. They would take Eric’s dad as a navigator and drive the trails again. They all left and Eric, Ashley and I sat on the rock wall in front of the house to wait. I watched each car as it drove by willing them one by one to stop and let Grant out. A woman and her teenage daughter were across the street watching the whole fiasco while they played with their dog. When the police left they walked over and asked us what had happened. Of course it was all in German and I caught parts but Eric was doing the talking. The woman kept repeating a sentence and Eric kept shaking his head. I didn’t even really care. The woman was staring at me and then she walked away. I asked Eric if she was saying something mean. He just shook his head and explained, “She was trying to make a joke, but it wasn’t funny.” I left it at that. We sat there. It was after eight o’clock and it was definitely getting dark. I wondered again what the night would bring, I prayed, and Scott pulled in with Grant. It had been almost five hours since I had last seen Grant and four hours since we had started looking for him.
It still wasn’t over. We had to contact the search party. The police had told us to dial the SOS number here if we found him so Scott dialed and Eric talked. We waited. Where had Scott found Grant? As he was trying to drive to the trailhead to wait he was turning up and down little streets and finally spotted a place to park in the vicinity of the trailhead. He noticed a kid sitting in a doorway. It was Grant. He was waiting for us, thinking we had walked past him when he had stopped to use the bathroom in the castle on the hill. Grant said he’d had a nice conversation with a winery owner who had asked him if he was okay. Yes, he was fine, just waiting for his parents to come off of the trail. Scott and I were so relieved to have our child back. We felt like dumb Americans though, maybe we had overreacted, no one seemed to be truly concerned except for us.
Eric was still sitting with us and we asked him if he had ever heard that Americans were stupid. He shook his head. “It’s okay,” Ashley told him, “We’ve heard it.” He smiled. Yes, he had heard that before. I told him that we may be stupid but we are nice and we mean well. I thought about what would happen in our town if a stranger had lost their child. I am certain that there would be countless people out looking at a moment’s notice. Now that Grant was safe, I asked Eric what that woman had been saying. He said she was making a joke that maybe Grant had found a girlfriend. I suppose “to each his own” sense of humor.
Poor Eric, the search party had not returned. Eric tried to call his dad and discovered his cell phone in his car. He had to call the police yet again to ensure that the message had been conveyed that Grant was found. The search party returned and Gant apologized and everyone left. So what did we do to Grant you may be wondering?
First of all, he got sent into the bathroom to spend some time looking in the mirror and thinking about how his actions had affected many people. Scott and I sat on the patio and relished the fact that we had both of our kids again. We felt like a circus. Germany might be glad to be rid of us. Scott said, “We’re going to forget about this. This is Grant’s story to tell his kids.” The doorbell rang. It was the woman who had made the joke. She was concerned and wondering if we had found Grant. The kindness of strangers.
Scott and I wrote down at least twenty sentences, things we hoped he had learned or would learn and asked Grant to choose one and write it one hundred times, old school, I know. He chose, “A lot of people went out of their way for me today.” Scott caved and let him off with thirty sentences. We realized that maybe we had overreacted a bit, but what do you do? You do your best and sometimes that isn’t pretty or smart or even something you’re proud of but it’s all you can do. And then you remember and recognize that in someone else in their time of need when you encounter it in this world and you help them without imposing your own views or opinions. You just lay down your own plans for the moment and help a friend or a stranger in need.