The League of Cross-Chronological Orphans
On my last weekend in the Harm City vicinity, I paid a visit to the Redneck Riviera to see Megan, her daughter Niki, and Niki's daughter Emma. Since both of Emma’s grandfathers are deceased and her father is a junkie, alternately skulking 'round Baltimore drug dens and government institutions, I help fill a gap in the little girl’s life. I always recall that three kindest souls I ever knew were my grandfathers LaFond and Kern, and my great-grandfather Kern. Maybe it’s just a family tradition and not a general rule. But my urge to shed small kindnesses on small children is largely frustrated as I suspect my own grandchildren have been taught to fear me like a creature from deep impenetrable swamps of yore, running and hiding and adopting a rigid silence as my son reluctantly takes my hand with quaking voice and his wife offers an obligatory shoulder hug…
Emma and I are orphans of a sort, passing on either ends of a similar alienating trajectory as our parent society dissolves along its wavering internal lines.
My normal duty, other than play, is grocery shopping with Megan and Emma and carrying the groceries home through the gravel path in the woods while Emma dances along jerkily in her pink rubber shoes singing, “Oh no, lions and tigers and bears! Unx Yim, save me—me scared…” and then she smiles and turns on her heels, spinning and grinning at the tree tops where the turkey buzzards perch, shouting, “Go 'way bad birds!” her finger pointed stridently at the looming top branches. The entire thing is an ordeal for Megan as Emma wants this and that.
So as we sat on the Friday-nighted couch I said, “Emma, wouldn’t you like to go shopping with your own little cart and get anything that you want, no grownups telling you what to do?”
[They have tiny “customer in training” carts at this grocer.]
Megan groans, “That wallet better be fat, old man.”
Niki chimes in, “I’m curious as to what she’ll buy. It might be totally random.”
Confident that the cart could not hold more groceries than the $40 in my wallet and that Emma, having about the same effective IQ and language range as most of the grocery store employees I once managed, would impress us with her mature choices, I said, “Emma, whatever you can fit in that cart you can have.”
Emma curled up next to me as her grandmother got up, rested her head on my gut and recoiled, saying as she touched her ear, “You belly so big—and hard!” patting it so it sounded like a drum. Then she grabbed the hem of my shirt and lifted it and said, “Hairy, like beast!”
I then deepened my voice to a rumbles and made my eyes monster big and intoned, “And when the moon comes up the hair on my back sprouts like grass!”
That sent her scurrying with a playful scream towards the kitchen to begin a game of beast and zombie girl hide and seek.
At the courtesy counter, her tiny cart veered unsteadily yet unerringly towards the candy counter and Megan snarked, “ATM here we come.”
As we watched, Emma very responsibly shopped the rack, weighing the size and appeal of each item and eventually chose one package, a combination toy, candy pack and flavored drink.
On she marched, overwhelmed by the responsibility and potential decisions, without a gluttonous impulse to choose two of any one thing.
She chose a value pack of freezer pops from a seasonal bin display.
She headed down the candy and bread aisle and remarked, ‘Me smell bread,” and did not choose a single bag of candy, mentioning how “pretty like flowers” one bag was.
She then found the toy rack, with about 60 skus on it and examined the tray of rubber balls, chose one pink and one gold and then placed the balls other children had scattered about into the tray, wiping her hands off as if knocking off dust as she stood.
Veering into the meat aisle she picked out a bag of miniature “white ‘oughnuts,” and then a pack of chocolate peanut butter cookie bars, saying, “Yum.”
Rounding the next corner she spotted a jug of cheese balls as large as her body and limbs combined and seized that, “Help, Unx Yim, so big for me.”
A box of cereal and a juice drink with toy sipping cap completed the purchase and Emma strode meaningfully, with full shopping cart, to the register, and began dutifully heaving and stretching to place every item on the belt two feet above her head.
Bagging the order, which cost her Unx $22.19, Emma decided that since she had relied on my beast strength to place the jug of cheese balls in the cart and on the counter, that once it was in a bag she would drag it home, and she did, giving me a tour of the experience, narrated at each turn of our path:
“Swamp so scary…”
“Under trees so cool…”
“Sun so hot…”
“No me flowers,” as she points to a flower pot arrangement.
“No me flowers e-or,” as she points to a bed of red-petaled plants
“Dese me flowers, so sad,” as she stopped teary-eyed before the hydrangea bush where, a month ago, she had stopped to sniff every colorful ball, pointing to the burned brown remnants of the sun-singed flower clusters and explained, “the sun ruin dem, burn dem brown.”
Then, with a widening of her eyes, she sees her apartment door and says, “Me show mommy me grossies,” and we were soon inside, her proudly unpacking, folding up her dollar bills and stuffing them in her pink piggy bank and soon back on the couch with us, her in the middle on her mother’s lap and Megan and I on either side as she said, “Unx Yim, me love you. You my Grandpa. Be careful in West place.”
Those who walk evermore woodenly on the declining path sometimes learn the most from those just beginning the climb on the other side.
(c) 2018 James LaFond