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The Worst Hour of My Life

Life Story Club Contributor

Coney Island, New York; 1969. © Stephen Salmieri

It was a hot Sunday afternoon in July of 1959. My daughter Sharon was five years old and Laura was two. We went to Coney Island to my mother’s house so we could go to the beach. We left Laura with my parents to take care of because she was two years old, and we took Sharon with us to the beach. On the beach we had a blanket to spread on the sand, a cooler with cold drinks, and a pail and shovel for Sharon to play with. It was very crowded because it was a hot Sunday afternoon in July. We found the A-strip to spread our blanket and put the cooler on the blanket. We turned away just for a second and when we turned back, we couldn’t find Sharon. She wasn’t there. You could imagine the feeling of panic. We called her name – no answer. We asked the people there if they saw a little girl and described the bathing suit that she was wearing. Nobody had seen her.

She just seemed to have vanished, and we were afraid that maybe she had walked towards the water. There were lifeguards on the beach and they said they didn’t see her. We didn’t know what to do, and we were panicking. I didn’t want to tell my parents and upset them, so the lifeguard suggested that we go to the station on 15th Street underneath the boardwalk, where the police took any children that were lost or lost items that were left on the beach. He suggested that we go there and see if maybe somebody had brought her there. We were on 23rd Street and the station was on 15th Street, which was quite a few blocks away. We didn’t think that she would be able to go there on her own, but we went there. And on the way there, I was panicking and thinking how frightened she must be, alone, lost, and without us. And it was the worst feeling I ever had.

So we got to the station and there was a policeman there. He took us into the station and we asked him for Sharon. He said there were a few children back in there and that we could go and look to see if Sharon was there. We got there and there she was. I was never so happy to see anybody in my life. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world, and I went over to her. She was sitting there eating ice cream and wasn’t crying. I went to her and I said, “Sharon, what happened?” She said, “I don’t know. I turned around from the blanket and I got lost. I couldn’t find my way.” 

There were a lot of people there. I guess one blanket looked like the next to a little girl. And she said, “The policeman found me and they brought me here and they gave me an ice cream.” I said, “Were you frightened? Were you scared?” She said, “No, I knew you would come and look and get me.” And then she said to me, “Can I finish my ice cream?” At that point, I would have given her a whole quart of ice cream. The whole adventure took about an hour, but it was the worst hour of my life.

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