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Miracle on Mallard

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

Kathleen ShoeLacy, that's what my Uncle Matt has called me since I was a little girl. A few years ago, when telling yet another story at one of the regular gatherings of my large extended family, Uncle Matt mentioned off-handedly that, you're always telling stories, Kathleen ShoeLacy. He's right, that's how I talk - I love to share stories, true stories, inspirational stories, stories about people - and I've often thought that I want to write them down. Whether my oral story-telling will translate to writing I'm not sure but after dragging my feet for many years, filling my days with family, professional and personal activities, I'm out of excuses so here goes.

Ignoring the advice of start at the beginning, I'll start with now, a story that just happened in the middle of the covid-19 pandemic of 2020. It was July 4th and I was at dinner with my husband, Jim, and good friends, Dorian and Sid. We were eating at an outside restaurant overlooking Wrightsville Beach, NC with about half the tables filled, all with a view of the beach and the ocean.

The lifeguards had left at 5 and the beach was not crowded since the locals knew that fireworks would be set off over the beach that night. Wrightsville Beach is a quiet coastal town, even with a larger than usual number of tourists due to the pandemic, and while the lifeguards work for the local police department, police are rarely seen on the beach. So when 3 police cruisers, with lights flashing, arrived at 7:30 pm and blocked off Mallard, the little street next to the restaurant, and one cruiser went on the beach with officers interviewing the few people still on the beach, it got everyone's attention.

Not wanting to interfere or be crassly curious, dinner talk continued but it was subdued. 10 minutes later, when lifeguards arrived after-hours with diving gear and started diving in the water directly in front of all of us, we were all but silent and the mood became even more somber. Then a man from the beach called up to all of us to ask if anyone had seen a 9-year-old, African-American girl wearing a bathing suit with a mermaid on it? The family nearby, with a young boy, responded that their son had been playing with her but they hadn't seen her in a while.

This caused me to tell the story of when our 5-year old son, Colin, was lost at the beach on a crowded Labor Day 23 years earlier. I was on the beach, Jim came out of the water and said, where's Colin? I said you had him, immediately ran into the water and started frantically shouting his name. Colin was missing long enough that I thought, that's it, I've been lucky my whole life, it's my turn for tragedy. The lifeguard on duty at the time came up and asked us the color his bathing suit, in our panic we had no idea, parents everywhere around us started looking for their own children and accounting for them.

What seemed like an eternity but probably wasn't more than 5-10 minutes, but enough time for Jim and I to talk about it the rest of weekend and how relieved we were, a man called out, is this him? and pulled Colin out from hiding behind his leg. Colin has no memory of that day which is seared in our minds and the best we figured was that Colin had come out of the water, became lost in the crowd, wandered toward a different lifeguard stand than the one we were sitting next to, and was afraid to answer my shouting for him thinking that he was in trouble.

I said to our friends, to those sitting nearby, to our waitress and texted our grown children, Colin and Megan, Colin's new fiance, Sarah, my four siblings and my mother, to please start praying for the safe return of a 9-year girl lost at Wrightsville Beach with divers looking for her. By this point, a Coast Guard boat arrived to help with the search and there was still enough light to look down the long beach to see if the girl had come out on the beach somewhere. I said that we need to pray for a miracle and hope she's somewhere on the beach because if she's in the water, this is a recovery, not a rescue, given how long she's been missing.

Another sad and tense 10 minutes went by before we heard clapping and cheers on the beach; they had found her - the girl had wandered far down the beach and was fine. You can call it coincidence, I say it was prayers answered and a miracle.

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