Saints of the Lost

hello there, friend

There’s a handful of saints every Catholic schoolchild learns about and never really forgets. You might not remember the Act of Contrition you’re supposed to recite before confession or your scripture memory verses from middle school, but those saints stick.

One of these is St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things. You learn about him early in your school days. Catholic teachers take any case of misplaced homework or mitten gone astray as an opportunity to remind you that St. Anthony is there, waiting to help you in your frantic search for whatever trivial item you’ve lost track of.

The prayer to St. Anthony is simple: “Dear St. Anthony, please come around. Something is lost and it cannot be found.” This is what I silently chant on a Friday afternoon as I overturn our house in search of Chuckie.

Chuckie—full name being Chuck the Buck—is a deer-shaped blanket buddy who has been the chosen lovey of my three-year-old since she was an infant.

Chuck had been missing since Thursday morning. More than twenty-four hours without her beloved Chuck had left my daughter Hadley distraught, so I promised to look for him while she and her sister were gone at Nana’s house that Friday.

My search is punctuated by annoyance, my prayer to St. Anthony interrupted with thoughts like, ’I could be getting so much work done right now,’ and ’She needs to start taking more responsibility for her things.’ Still, I remember what it feels like to irrationally miss a stuffed animal, so I comb through the house for a full twenty minutes.

I check the couch cushions (beige) where the deer in question (also beige) so often likes to hide. I dig through three toy bins full of blocks and baby dolls. I pay special attention to the bottom of the kids’ hamper and beneath the mattress of our bed, both places where Chuck has inexplicably turned up in the past.

Despite my repeated prayers, Chuck isn’t anywhere. When I break the news to Hadley that evening, I think I’m more upset than she is. Her chin quivers and she sniffs a few times, but she contents herself with a substitute stuffed animal during bedtime that night.

I, on the other hand, am something of a wreck. I find myself tearing up during still moments over the weekend. I keep looking all the places we’ve already looked. I retrace our steps. I think of St. Anthony. I really lose it when Monday brings a fifty-degree chill and nonstop rain. Maybe I’ve seen Toy Story too many times, but I can’t stop picturing Chuck cold and wet, wondering why his favorite kid has abandoned him.

I pack the kids into the car and retrace our usual walking route through the neighborhood, driving five miles an hour so I can scan the waterlogged leaves piled into the gutter for any sign of a worn-out deer peeking through. We drive to Target, where I creep along through the parking lot in case Chuck fell out of the car unnoticed. We check the park, deserted and soggy, though I’m sure we weren’t there on the day of Chuck’s disappearance.

Nearly two weeks after we lost Chuck, Hadley has all but forgotten about him. I’m still opening random drawers and chanting my prayer. Her adjustment to life without him is even more tragic to me than the thought of him laying in the gutter somewhere. It means she’s accepted my failure to find the thing she loves most in this world. If I don’t find this deer, I have failed my daughter.

I’m getting desperate, and St. Anthony isn’t helping. I start thinking I’ve been targeting the wrong saint. Perhaps St. Anthony is so overwhelmed with the pleas of late-for-work adults who have lost their keys and panicked kids who can’t find their math textbooks that he doesn’t have time to point the way toward a bedraggled, beloved deer.

Google tells me about a saint that slipped through the cracks of my Catholic education: St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes, impossible situations, and hopeless cases.

That sounds about right. Finding Chuck after two weeks is probably a lost cause. Or maybe the lost cause is me.

Lost is exactly what I’ve been feeling lately. What kind of mother lets her three-year-old lose her favorite toy, then snaps at the end of a long day that it’s her fault for not paying attention to her things? How am I supposed to protect my kids if I can’t even protect a stuffed animal? The signs that I’m failing at motherhood are piling up fast, and I’ve accepted Chuck’s disappearance as another item to add to the list.

Not all lost things can find their way home. But then, some things can.

It’s 5 p.m. on a weeknight. I’m surrounded by the usual dinnertime cacophony: the oven beeping that it’s time to put the casserole in, the one-year-old shrieking because I have to set her down while I open the oven door, the cat yowling because I’ve let the clock tick one minute past his dinnertime, a forgotten podcast humming in the background.

I shout over the noise, asking Hadley to feed the cat. She sits down to drag the container of cat food from the pantry, pulling it all the way out rather than just reaching in like I usually do.

Suddenly she is shouting, a joyous yelp layered above the chaos. “Chuckie!”

My visions of a sad, cold Chuck left out in the rain had been for nothing. During our seventeen days of searching, Chuck had been tucked snugly behind the cat food in the back corner of the pantry floor, a Sam’s Club size container of instant oats on one side, a forty-pound bag of wheat on the other.

St. Jude came through for Chuck. He took a lost cause, a hopeless case, an impossible situation, and made it right again. For once, I get to shorten my mental list of parental failings. If there’s hope for a lost stuffed deer, there’s hope for the hopeless mother who prayed for his return.

Words by Ashley Brooks.