Missing the (land) mark

Whenever I arrive home from the local metropolis, my husband asks me, "Were all the flowerpots in the right places?" My husband has a nose like a bloodhound, and he chuckles over my dismal sense of direction. His teasing results from an incident when I was trying to locate a friend's house. Her home looked like many others on the city block, except that she had hung up a flower basket that became my landmark.

On this particular occasion, it had frosted the previous night and the flower basket had been removed. I panicked. Which one of the little gray bungalows was Jo's? I circled the block, praying for a clue. Suddenly I spied her Honda, and turned into her driveway. Rule of thumb: Choose nontransitory landmarks!

This precept was hammered in further that summer when I paused to look for the decrepit yellow oil truck that should have been parked by the gray house at the corner of 132nd and 47th Street. It wasn't there. Was I on the correct course to Rene's house? I squinted at the field behind the garage where the truck usually sat, and patches of yellow flickered in the tall grass. There was my truck! Yes, I was on course, and my friend should live just beyond that curve sign.

Having learned my lesson, I now try to memorize permanent landmarks to guide me on my travels: Turn by the white barn, watch for the S curve, or pull in three houses down from the library. Don't ask me to remember street numbers or right and left turns; those facts just muddle me. Tell me to look for the blue shutters or the mound of rhododendrons in the person's yard; these I will recollect.

The worst of my misadventures occurred at a supermarket. My family and I were driving home from up north and we stopped at a new grocery store. Snow was falling heavily, and my husband decided to remain with our young sons and keep the car warm.

"I'll just dash in and be back in a minute," I assured him.

I did dash in, collected my items, and ran to the checkout. After I rolled the shopping cart through the automatic doors, I stood and scanned the parking lot. Snow swirled about me, making it difficult to see anything, especially our light-blue station wagon.

It had to be out there, somewhere. I forced the shopping cart through the slush and walked up and down the lanes. The car was not to be found. My imagination raced while my feet plodded after the cart. Someone had kidnapped my family! They had left me!

JUST when I was near the point of tears, I noticed another parking lot on the other side of the store. Having never been in this building, I had not realized that I had exited the opposite side of the store from the one I had entered. How dare they confuse disoriented people like me! I plunged around the corner and found my family, who were wondering what had become of me.

Not long after that, I spied those large letters posted in parking lots: C, D, E, F, and so on. Now here was something I could latch onto. How kind of these folks to think of a way to help wandering people like me.

Now I look up after I park my car, and I chant my letter, plus a word to reinforce my location. " 'C' for corgi," or " 'F' for farmer," I recite. Usually I can find my vehicle. And when necessity takes me down different byways, I've admonished my friends, "Don't remove those flowerpots without warning me!" I haven't been lost in months.

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