During World War II, my father was a late draftee because he had a wife and child (me). When he finally was inducted into the Navy, he did his basic training at Great Lakes, IL, and then was stationed in San Francisco. I was two years old at the time. My mother and I traveled by train from Chicago to be with him.
We had been in San Francisco about nine months when my father was shipped to Guam. After a few weeks without him, Mom became homesick and decided to return to Chicago. However, by that time, all transportation was reserved for the military; we were stuck in San Francisco for an indeterminate amount of time.
One day at the local playground, Mom started to think about her family and Chicago and tears started pouring down her cheeks. A woman we had never met approached and asked her what was wrong. Mom explained that she was trapped in San Francisco with no family and no way back to Chicago. The woman told her to be at a certain place at a certain time and ask for a certain person, and there would be train tickets to get us home!
Mom didn’t really believe the woman, but figured “what the heck.” We followed the lady’s instructions, and three weeks later, found ourselves on a train back to Chicago and family! We never knew the name of our benefactor or how she was able to pull strings to get us home. Mom always felt bad that she didn’t get a chance to thank her. Who knows how long we would have been alone in San Francisco without her help?
I don’t actually remember San Francisco or any of this happening, but as my sister and I grew up, Mom often told us this story. She called the woman her “angel on the playground.”
To this day, when I notice someone who seems confused and alone, I try to see if there is something I can do to help them… and I always remember the angel on the playground when I do.