Joetown

So, this thing happened on Sunday.

It’s a little hard to explain and I’m still trying to make sense of it in my head. In fact, maybe it’s not the thing itself, but my reaction to it that has me so discombobulated. At any rate, I’m still feeling a little shook.

concert_magazineMy husband Ross and I were in St. Joseph on Sunday, July 3rd to see Matt Vee perform a Neil Diamond tribute concert. I’m a huge Neil Diamond fan, and I think it is fair to say that Matt Vee (nephew of the legendary Bobby Vee) can sing Neil Diamond even better than Neil Diamond himself. He’s that good.

We got to town a little early so we could swing by and pick up a backpack that I’m borrowing from the Wetterlings for the Wilderness Trek next week. They were also planning to attend the concert, so we made plans to meet up with them later at the show.

We had some time before Matt Vee started, so Ross and I decided to wander around a bit and get the lay of the land. “Joetown Rocks” is a parish festival and fundraiser for the Church of Saint Joseph. In addition to the free outdoor concerts, there’s bingo, beer, bake sales, and many fun activities for the kids. All told, Joetown Rocks attracts between 18,000-20,000 people each year, and Sunday night, I would hazard a guess there were at least that many people sitting on lawn chairs in the church parking lot waiting to hear Matt Vee sing Neil Diamond.

After scarfing down a Joe Burger, Ross and I spotted Jerry in the crowd and visited with him for a little bit. Next we bought ourselves a container of homemade bars/candies and headed back to our seats to catch the end of the Queen tribute band that was onstage before Matt Vee. It was a beautiful night with temps in the 70s, low humidity, and no mosquitoes.

Perfect.

Matt Vee took the stage at 8:30 and he jumped right into the hits. Cracklin’ Rosie. Red Red Wine. Forever in Blue Jeans. His voice is like butter… smooth and rich… and pretty soon I found myself smack in the middle of my happy place. Summertime and 70s music. Ahhh.

And then… the thing.

After finishing one of his songs, Matt Vee paused for a moment while a police officer in a bright yellow security vest came on stage to make an announcement. He said two little girls were missing. One eight, one… seven? I strained to hear the details. One was wearing a black and white striped skirt. One was named Julia, or maybe Julianna? That was about all I caught.

I turned to Ross and said, “Oh shit.”

I can’t even tell you what songs came after that. I just kept waiting for them to announce that the girls had been found… no big deal. Have another beer. Thanks for your help.

But that didn’t happen. The band kept playing, people kept singing along, but that guy in the yellow vest never came back. And all I kept thinking was… not here, not now. Not this place. Not again.

I was sick with worry, not just for the parents of those two missing girls, but for the whole town… and for the Wetterlings. I couldn’t even bring myself to imagine what they might be thinking.

I waited. Still no announcement from that guy in the yellow vest.

Not here, not now. Not this place. Not again.

In that moment, all I could think about was my friend Shelly. In 1999, her 10 year old son Cody was struck and killed by a car while he was riding his bike near their home. For 17 years, we have helped the Berg family put on a one-mile fun run each July called the “Mill Pond Mile.” Cody loved to run, and the money raised from the race goes to support the Cody Berg Scholarship Fund.

About ten years ago, we were helping clean up after the race when suddenly there was a loud screeching of tires, a thump, and then screams. My neighbor’s son, Sam, had been hit by a car while he was trying to cross the street. He had been holding his mom’s hand, but then shot ahead to try and catch up to his brother and my son, who had crossed just ahead of him.

I dropped everything I was carrying and raced to help. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Shelly crumple to the ground, and I remember thinking to myself, oh God.

Not here, not now. Not this place. Not again.

I waited with Sam and his mom until the ambulance came. Then I followed them to the hospital and waited in the emergency room, hoping, praying, and begging that Sam would be OK. It was the same emergency room where we had gathered back on April 12, 1999… the day Cody had been hit.

Not here, not now. Not this place. Not again.

After about an hour, Sam’s grandpa came out to tell me he would be fine. A few bumps and scratches, but all in all, an incredibly lucky boy.

……

As the minutes ticked by at the concert, I kept looking around, wondering if I should be doing something. Many of the people sitting back by us hadn’t even heard the announcement, so life was going on as usual. People were laughing, clapping, singing… I was a wreck. I headed to the bathroom and scanned the crowd for two little girls, one wearing a black and white striped skirt.

It was a pretty futile attempt. After about ten minutes, I headed back to my seat and waited some more. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity (probably 30-40 minutes), Matt Vee made the announcement that the two little girls had been found. The crowd broke out in applause. I exhaled and suddenly had tears streaming down my face.

As it turns out, by the time the guy in the yellow vest got on stage to make his original announcement, Patty had already left the concert to take her young grandkids home. She never even heard it… thank God for that.

As for the little girls, I don’t know any more details about how they got lost or how they were found. All I know is that this story has a happy ending, and for that, I’m so eternally grateful.

Phew.

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