04/23/2011 02:10 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Life Lesson: The Man Who Demanded 'Bread'

One summer many years ago, when I was traveling with my husband and two small sons through Scandinavia, we overnighted in a campground outside Stockholm.

Our Volkswagen camper's top was popped up, and my two little boys were still snoring lightly in early-morning sleep. Hubby was already puttering behind the boxy van, and I was outside getting things ready for breakfast. I was literally a happy camper.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a thin man wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap came into my vision. He stood there and said quietly, "Give me your bread."

At first I thought, "I wonder if he wants white or rye"? We just had bought some hot dog buns. But then I realized, as my stomach dropped to my toes, that the man didn't mean bread. He meant money.

He was mugging me in friendly, law-abiding Stockholm.

It was absurd in a way, like the scene in Woody Allen's first movie, "Take the Money and Run" (which had come out a few years before), when Allen hands the bank teller a botched note that reads, "I have a gub. " The tellers can't read the note and get into a heated argument over what "gub" means, with the robber trying to assure them that it was "gun," not "gub." This man suddenly in front of me didn't have either a gun or a gub. He had a knife.

I was young, knew nothing about handling a situation like this in a place like this, all leafy and supposedly peaceful, and I just stood there, confused.

And again the man said, this time louder and with a darker sound, "Give me your bread."

I figured he must have watched too many American movies., using the slang "bread," like "dough" in an earlier era. I was still hoping that maybe, just maybe, it was a joke.

But the knife in his hands wasn't.

I stood there hapless, not knowing that my husband would come around in a few seconds, all six-feet-five of him, and that the guy with the knife would scurry like a rat into the woods, with no "bread" in his hand.

And I certainly had no idea, as my husband held my shaking body, that 20 years later I would be mugged in Barcelona and dragged along the street while another man, the man I was living with, wrestled the mugger to the ground and then held my shaking body.

Or that I would be a victim of a smash-and-grab robbery a couple of years after that, with a lead pipe shattering the windshield of my car when I stopped at a light, alone in Miami. And nobody was in my life to hold me then, and I drove with broken glass all around me until I reached a friend's house in tears.

I couldn't know those things, or the ups and downs of my life to come. But I sure did know right then and there in that camping area in Sweden that life wasn't as benign as I thought it had been a few minutes before. And that life, like bread, was not always what you thought it would be.