I saw the gal sitting in a booth at the Ixtapa Restaurant in Stayton, Oregon. Her thick Norwegian blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail. A little girl, maybe two-years of age, sat on the inside next to the big picture window. Across the table, munching on chips and salsa, was a boy, maybe nine or ten.
She was dressed in her work uniform.
That of a police officer.
I was listening to Phillip Margolin (yes, the thriller writer Margolin) talk about when he taught Language Arts to kids in the Bronx, back in the day. Margolin was urging me to toss out the high brow literature of Silas Marner and replace it with Mickey Spillane noir fiction.
Sex and guns. That’s what kids want to read about, Margolin said. (For the record, we aren’t reading Silas Marner in my classes. I’m not sure I’ve ever read it, but then again, I’ve never read Mickey Spillane books, either.)
As Phillip, who was sitting on my right, spoke, I kept watching the lady cop with the kids. It is not easy, ever, to take a toddler out for a sit-down meal. Why do you think those drive-up windows gained in popularity? A kid strapped into a car seat eating “chicky nuggets” (as my grandson calls them) is a lot easier to control than a child on an exploratory mission in a sit-down joint.
I thought this momma brave for more than just her cop uniform.
At some point, shortly after I’d suggested to Texas-native writer Jody Seay that Lubbock was a frightening place for progressives like me, somebody at the table asked me about that murder story I had written, the one about Karly Sheehan.
Soon as I said Karly’s name, the lady cop whipped her head our way, at the table full of Crazy 8s authors. Cops in Oregon know the Karly story. Cops. Nurses. Investigators. Child abuse advocates. Social Workers. Head Start folks.
They all know Karly’s name.
And they all know about Karly’s Law, even if they don’t necessarily know all the details of the abuse Karly suffered over a ten-month period at the hands of her mama’s boyfriend.
Stayton is just a stone’s throw from Corvallis where the murder took place in 2005.
When I wrote our family’s memoir – After the Flag has been Folded – I thought I would never write a book as difficult emotionally as that one.
I was wrong.
Karly’s story was much harder.
I was in Stayton to talk about writing and the women who inspire mine. That was my intent, to talk about all the strong females who have inspired my books – from Judge Rufe, to Mama, to Karly, to Aunt Cil – the inspiration for Burdy, my latest book. And I might have, too, had Dan DeWeese not derailed me with that story of his about the parent-teacher conference he’d had with his son’s Language Arts teacher. I’ve always regarded LA teachers highly. Likely because I was the beneficiary of the teachings of Marjorie Drury at Columbus High. Ms. Drury was the first to introduce me to Eudora Welty. I still have the copy of the book of Welty’s she gifted me. I am late to learning that LA teachers are often relegated to that same place of dishonor as Dana Carvey’s Church Lady. Sigh.
We were in Stayton as part of the Crazy 8s Author Tour that is the genius-child of author George Wright. George embodies all the things I admire in people – gracious, good, smart, funny, and a wonderful storyteller.
We were due over at the library at 6:30 to prepare for our 7 p.m. event. (We will be in Seaside next week). By the time we got up to leave, the lady cop with the two kids had already left. When George asked for our ticket, the server informed us that the woman, who’d been sitting by the big window, had bought our meal.
All of us.
There was no explanation. Just that she had paid for our meal.
I have traveled a lot of places, been treated to a lot of lovely dinners by a lot of kindly people, but last night in Stayton, Oregon, a lady cop with two young children bought my dinner.
She did it without any fanfare, without giving herself a shout-out via Twitter. She did it without stopping by the table and asking Margolin to take a selfie with her. She graciously bought a host of Oregon writers dinner.
I had watched the lady cop leave after finishing her meal, unaware, then, of her kindness.
The tow-headed toddler with the apple-red cheeks clasped her hands around her mama’s neck, clearly she felt safe and loved there.
Not every child is so well-loved by their mommas.
Not every child feels safe in the arms of their mommas.
Not every child has a momma who treats strangers and loved ones alike with kindness.
Thank you, Sgt. Danielle, for the meal, and for being the kind of woman who lives a good story, and inspires others to kindnesses.
For the sake of all children, everywhere.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author Burdy (Mercer University Press) and a bunch of other books, including the story of Karly Sheehan: The True Crime Story Behind Karly’s Law.