The old soul with hands of gold

By Manning Peterson, Staff Writer

Tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the most devastating day of my young life. The exact date of this egregious event was Friday, March 5, 2010.

My name is April May. I am a 36-year-old single mother of three charming children, community service employee for 10 hours a week and a full-time student at Contra Costa College. To say my life’s plate is full is an obvious understatement.

This abominable adventure began the night I entrusted my reliable 18-year-old cousin, Debbie, to babysit for my 5-year-old son Jack.

I had planned to spend a private romantic over-night visit with my boyfriend. These opportunities were rare and time truly flies when you’re having fascinating fun.

Before I knew it, a serious sunrise had jumped up and bit me on the butt.

When I rolled out of bed and reached for my phone, there was one message showing and the phone was ringing.

I answered and the voice on the other end sounded severely stressed. It was struggling to reluctantly report a desperately disturbing dilemma.

“We can’t find Jack!”

The word cut into my left eardrum with the precision of a skilled EMT surgeon’s scalpel. They paralyzed my body from the top of my neck to the balls of my feet.

It would have only required a moment or two to focus and ask for the exact details involving the specific questions I didn’t wish to have answered.

So, I just screamed, “What? We can’t find Jack,” Debbie screamed back.

These are the words no living, responsible mother ever wants to hear — that your child is missing.

I don’t recall saying goodbye or hanging up, but I wasn’t immobile any longer because I was now frantically tugging at my long blonde locks while shrieking, “Oh, my god, oh, my god!”

The 10-minute trip in my tan 2002 Ford SUV to the supposed sanctuary on Overend Avenue in Richmond is the only area of my terror territory which was a complete void in my manic mind.

“Nobody takes care of a child like his mother — nobody,” is what I kept repeating to myself. Guilt is the gift that never stops giving.

I pulled up in front of the dilapidated duplex at 666 where I had jettisoned Jack the day before. This was not a house designed and built by the Feng Shui Construction Company.

My next nerve-numbering task was to take a couple of deep breaths and fake a fantasy of phony physical and psychological harmony. My teenage classmates call it “keep your cool.”

A pudgy, 58-year-old, dark brown skinned African-American male from the Richmond Police Department was talking with Debbie.

My meticulous visual inventory of their haptics and kinesics for any positive signals of the hope my heart and soul were pleading for netted nada.

Optimism was not yet a feasible focus factor on my radar screen. My guilt trip had already ambled around all four of those bases.

My imaginary emotional exit and schizoid-side trip was sent packing when the exact answer I had prayed for became a sudden surprise and rewarded me with  a sweet surge of serenity.

The smiling police officer politely introduced himself. “Hi, my name is Sgt. Hank Jennings and I have wonderful news for you. Your son is alive, safe and healthy. Last night about 8 o’clock, an elderly Mexican grandfather who lives down the street was working on his car in his yard when he noticed the boy wandering across the street. After looking up and down the block, it was obvious to him the child was alone and disoriented. He picked your son up, brought him home and called us at RPD to report the incident. He gave your child a grilled cheese sandwich, a glass of milk, a warm bath and put him to bed. He washed and dried his clothing while the boy was sleeping.”

I thought to myself, “This wonderful old man truly saved my baby boy’s life.”

I did not share my anxiety-based anger or joy with this articulate police officer who was providing first class community service. Sgt. Jennings continued, “RPD and the founding-grandfather mutually agreed to have the boy’s return exchange site at a neighborhood public park.

“El Abuelo,” also known as the grandfather in Spanish, had adamantly advised our RPD negotiator, Lt. Ellie English, he would not be willing to part with the boy until his mother personally presented herself to take custody and control of her son.

His decision was consistent with that of a loving, experienced, responsible parent.

The old man was already at the park when we arrived. Lt. English, an attractive 30-year-old, caramel-toned African-American female, was seated on the redwood bench next to him.

Jack was serenely seated on his surrogate grandfather’s lap. The old man was cuddling and caressing Jack like he was his own child or grand child.

I calmly strolled toward the seated duo. The old dude politely stood up when he saw me. His instincts told him I was Jack’s mom.

When we came face to face, I looked down to closely scrutinize this 5-foot-5-inch, wiry, copper-skinned gentleman crowned with a salt and pepper crew cut.

My quick haberdasher inventory revealed excessively experienced light blue coveralls which were torn at the knees and permanently spot-stained by the longevity of a cruddy career of auto repair activities.

The axle grease grit on his stubby fingers and under the finger nails perfectly accessorized his mechanic’s tuxedo.

We didn’t speak because we didn’t need to. There are certain circumstances and scenarios in life when the spoken word won’t adequately express the depth, magnitude or specific intrinsic intent of the message.

He gazed up into the tear-filled brown eyes and gave me a warm wonderful left eye wink as he placidly placed my darling, joyously smiling tow-headed Jack in my anxious arms before he vanished behind the three swings.

I didn’t have time to say goodbye, thank you or ask him his name and address. My mother-wit told me his classy convenient exit coincided with the relief, gratitude and happiness his unconditional love and generosity had delivered to my life.

The one incredible image I will always carry from this brief immortal incident is the old man’s hands with a semi-circle of thick calluses on each hand and hard, timeworn fingernails saturated with auto-related residue.

The fashion police might have considered his scruffy appearance; especially the hands, as ugly or unkempt. But to me, they were golden.

On second thought, they were more precious than gold. They were priceless.

Those heroic hands had righteously rescued me from a bottomless dungeon of despair and bestowed a bounty of blessings complete with a spiritual foundation.

My memory of the old man’s powerful yet affectionate hands will always be an indelible symbol of the supreme power of unconditional love.

One transfusion of compassion by this elderly angel had rescued me from a potential lifetime of torment and endless sleepless nights self-induced by the “What if’s? or shoulda-woulda-coulda’s,” known only to those who have lost a child to the winds of fate or the dust of destiny.

Today is March 4, 2015. It is a cool, foggy, windy prototypical East Bay late winter day and an eerily exact replica of March 5, 2010.

I will always carry my life lesson learned that divine day from “The old soul with the hands of gold.”

And I will never again pass any child in need. You know why? Because she or he is my child and we are all God’s children.

Author’s information: April May is a fictitious name to protect the anonymity of the main character. All other names used are also fictitious. The story’s events are true. This is April’s story as she lived it. I simply did the ghost writing for the pleasant privilege of sharing this truly wonderful unusual slice of Americana with the world.