Dreading Fall Fest

Last week, as the days counted down to Fall Fest in Sister Bay, my sleep was plagued by nightmares. Based on columns I have written in previous years concerning Fall Fest, you may, at this moment, be anticipating the content of these dreams. Last week’s nightmares, however, were of an entirely different sort than those that have plagued me in the past. Allow me to explain by beginning at the beginning, with what I believe was the impetus for these macabre deliriums.

During recent conversations with customers in the bookstore I had occasion to remember the story of the Ence family from Fairview, Utah, who, on the return trip from a vacation in Massachusetts, stopped for gasoline and the requisite bathroom breaks near Indianapolis.

Now, to be fair here, a car trip from Massachusetts to Utah is a long arduous trek in the best of circumstances. When this trip is being made by a family of four, including two young girls, this adventure becomes, I am sure, an ongoing ordeal. Nerves become frayed; senses become dull.

Thus it came to pass that at a service station near Indianapolis, the mother escorted her two young daughters into the ladies room, returning to the car after several minutes with one young daughter in tow.

Four hours later, near Farmington, Illinois, Mom, Dad, and one daughter noticed that someone was missing. That’s right, folks, Mr. & Mrs. Ence, and daughter, had somehow managed to drive for 4 hours and over 200 miles before they noticed that daughter, Hally, was not among their company. They immediately phoned the authorities.

A family reunion occurred 12 hours later at a Marion County Children’s Center and Paul Browne, the center’s director, tried to downplay the apparent negligence of the Ence family.

“This happens every day at malls,” Browne commented. “It’s not a neglectful situation. [Hally] is just upset. Four hours can be a long time in the life of a 6-year-old who has been separated from her parents.”

Contrary to Browne’s opinion that this episode was not a “neglectful situation,” I find it alarmingly indicative of some deep emotional and psychological problems within the Ence family. Consider the daughter who was not forgotten. Is it really credible to believe that she went four hours without noticing that her sister was not in the back seat of the car with her? Isn’t it much more likely that this is a case of sibling rivalry carried to an extreme? The “unforgotten” daughter must have spent four hours in virtual nirvana at the prospect of commanding her parent’s undivided attention forever and ever.

And what are we to make of Mr. and Mrs. Ence? Can anyone in their right mind believe that they could drive for four hours without noticing that one of their daughters is missing and not call them negligent? Or is it possible that after four hours of careful consideration they realized they would never get away with simply abandoning their child at an Indianapolis service station?

Then, of course, there is the matter of Hally. Despite Browne’s assertion that she was “just upset,” I have to believe that this poor young girl has been traumatized. Now young Hally will have a legitimate reason to believe that her parents love her sister more. She may even come to believe that she is nothing more than an afterthought and possibly even an inconvenience to her parents. And who could blame her?

Yes, folks, though I believe that the phrase “dysfunctional family” is grossly overused (if not an outright oxymoron), when you look it up in your desk reference set of the future, you may well find a cross-reference to the Ence family.

So now we return to my nightmare. The setting is the bookstore, of course, sometime during Saturday of Fall Fest. During a lull in activity, I journey toward the office to refresh my coffee, but as I move toward the back of the store it gradually transforms, becoming vaguely reminiscent of Kroch’s & Brentano’s old store on Wabash Avenue in Chicago.

Kroch’s had warehouse rooms on the upper floors of the building, and I suddenly find myself on the elevator on the way to the 5th floor, coffee cup still in hand. When the doors open, I find myself in a room vaguely similar to the children’s section of my current store, and it is filled with children. Books are piled on the floor. Puzzles are open and in various stages of being solved. A game of tag is apparently under way. And, of course, there is nary an adult in sight. Needless to say my comments regarding “parental guidance appreciated” are unceremoniously disregarded.

Spotting one young girl nearby, I inquire as to the whereabouts of her parents. She responds that her father went to get a pizza. “So he’s next door?” I inquire hopefully, thinking of Moretti’s.

“Nope,” she states nonchalantly. “He wanted real Chicago deep dish pizza, so he went to…”

“Basoni’s,” I finish, “just north of Lincoln Park in Chicago, right?”

“That’s right,” she responds with a beaming smile. “And he told me to wait for him right here in the bookstore.”

As I stand there, momentarily stunned, the coy little imp makes a small request: “Can I use your bathroom?”

And before I have the opportunity to respond, the request becomes a cause, joined by every child present. “I have to go!” “Can I go, too?” “Where’s your bathroom?” “I have to pee!” The refrain, in its myriad forms, fills the air.

It is at this point that I invariably awoke. My body was trembling slightly, and I felt a degree tightness in my throat and chest.

This, then, is the dream – nay, nightmare – which tormented my sleep last week. And I think you will agree that its root cause was the story of the Ence family I had occasion to remember.

Then again, each time I awoke from this nightmare there was also a certain tightness in my bladder, requiring a middle of the night trip to the lavatory. So maybe the whole nightmare business was simply my mind telling me to cut down on the coffee if I want to sleep through the entire night.