Latika, our one-year-old houseguest, bounced in the Johnny Jump Up mounted in the kitchen doorway. Smiling, she banged a plastic measuring cup on the tray in front of her while I stood at the kitchen counter arranging the frozen potato rounds on the meat mixture in the baking dish. My girls had reminded me I hadn’t made the Minnesota staple in months, and would I do it tonight? I smiled at the normalcy of Tater Tot Hotdish, the exuberant baby bobbing near me, and the family being home together for the evening. The humble, simple, peaceful life.  


The blasts outside jarred me and brought to mind Fireworks or Gunshots?, a game we Northsiders too often played. But this time was easy; the higher-pitched crack of each report told me the answer. I flew to the kitchen window. Our dog, Lala, stood erect outside at the back gate, and her strident barks and raised hair told me she had chosen the same answer I had.

Just then, a young man dashed from the rental property across the alley. He darted looks in both directions, his right hand under his t-shirt—the fabric revealing the outline of a gun. He jogged down the alley to the north and disappeared.

I deserted my lookout, dodged Latika in her swing, and rushed into the living room where Husband was parked in a chair. I jabbed my thumb toward the kitchen.

“Those were gunshots. And I just saw the shooter.” I rattled off the details.

“Okay.” Husband stood up, strode from the room, and exited the house.

Within seconds, sirens wailed. I lifted the baby from her seat and looked out the window again. A squad car zoomed through the alley, and a second one stopped by our garage. Two officers emerged, and they spoke with Husband for a few minutes. Then he poked his head into the house. “I told the police what you saw. They want to talk to you.”

I handed the baby to Flicka and stepped outside. An ambulance arrived, its lights flashing. A police officer stretched yellow tape across the alley.

Another officer ambled toward me. “So, you saw the guy?”

“I heard five shots, and then I looked out the window and saw him run out of there.” I pointed at the rental property. “He went north.”

“What did he look like?”

I described the perpetrator, recounting how the man’s hand was hidden under his shirt.

He nodded. “What color shirt?”

I tilted my head and frowned. “I don’t remember. I was watching his hand—and where he ran. I could tell he had a gun.”

“But you don’t remember the color of his shirt?”

Was it dark—maybe grey or blue? If it had been red or yellow, I might have remembered. I shook my head. “I’m sorry. I don’t.”

The officer thanked me and walked away.

Then Husband nodded toward the commotion in the alley. “The guy who got shot is on the ground in the back yard over there.”  

I searched his face. “Do you think he’s dead?”

“Who knows? I couldn’t see much. People were already crowding around him.”

I stared at the emergency workers, law enforcement, and curious passersby. A week earlier, we had grilled burgers, and my main concern was whether or not I had remembered to buy another bottle of ketchup. Today I wondered about the state of the victim, lying on a lawn close to our house.

After a few hours, the crowd dissipated, the yellow tape vanished, and normal life resumed. The news later provided some spare details about the young man who had been sniped down in the yard near ours, and we learned the ending of his story: he had died in the ambulance on the way to North Memorial.

Shaken by our close proximity to the homicide, I mulled over the day’s happenings that evening. But shootings in our part of the city were as common as Tater Tot Hotdish at a Midwestern potluck. And those behind the frequent violence—like the shooter I saw flee that day—lived for self-preservation, greed, or revenge. But what was the answer? Too many throughout our city, country, and world cried out for peace at such a time as this, but if they did anything about it, they chose good behavior’s temporary fix, their efforts shiny but brittle. And their plastic peace showed up in tattoos, bumper stickers, and necklaces, masking their own dark thoughts.

Where was the lasting, unbreakable Peace that transcended all understanding—and guarded the hearts and minds of humanity? He had stood among the onlookers in the yard across the alley, longing to be invited in.


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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.