“Nature fits all her children with something to do . . . .”
– James Russell Lowell
My oldest grandchild is a man now, but the other day as we celebrated his birthday over lunch, I couldn’t help thinking of the years when there weren’t as many candles on his cake. So I hope he – and you – will indulge me this return to a day we shared when he was a big-brother of 9, and his little sister was a scant 4.
It was to be a small outing, just a trip to Baskin-Robbins at Augusta Mall for ice cream and an hour or two together. As it happened, there was an impressive sand sculpture exhibit at the mall that day, too, and I thought we could prolong the outing by taking in the added attraction and perhaps riding up and down the escalator a time or two.
Both the ice cream and the up-and-down staircase would be fun for me, too. We didn’t have escalators and 31 flavors where I grew up.
The sand sculpture was a big hit, a marvelous work of art with life-like images of a forest full of animals.
“That’s a buffalo, Grandma, not a lion. Can’t you see his horns?”
Nine-year-olds are wiser than grandmothers. Little sister showed her wisdom, too, pointing out little things – a turtle, mouse and chipmunk – we elders had missed.
Soon we were off to the ice cream store, where grandson ordered chocolate-chip and little sister chose pink bubble gum so she could blow bubbles with its real bits of gum after the ice cream was gone.
Cones in hand, contents on chins and clothes, we sat down on a second-floor bench next to the tall fountain, and felt its spray above our heads as we licked away. Sand sculpture and ice cream drifted into the background as I watched my favorite little people in all the world mesmerized by the sight, sound and feel of the water.
“Grandma . . .”
Yes, I thought I had some pennies they could toss into the pool below, though I knew a dozen coins in a fountain make few memories. Rather than deplete my larger coins I gave them each a dime to exchange for pennies at a friendly merchant’s store nearby. A few seconds later those coins, too, were gone.
As a diversion from our poverty, I suggested we go downstairs to the fountain pool and wash chocolate chip and pink bubble gum stickiness off two pairs of super-gluey hands. Little did I know the hand-washing expedition would be the highlight of the afternoon.
Besides about 6 inches of water, do you know what else is in those pools? Pennies. Zillions of pennies, hundreds within even a 4-year-old’s reach from the edge.
Yes, I thought it was OK to pick the pennies off the bottom as long as they promised to throw them back in. Not to worry. They didn’t have another thought in mind.
For a good hour, those two children bellied down on all sides of all three fountain pools in the sparsely attended mall that day, scooping up handfuls of someone else’s wishes and making them their own. They worked on their aim, competed for distance thrown and took bulging pocketfuls back upstairs to make louder plops or try hitting the big fountain to see if coins keep dancing in the air like the water did.
Finally, we tore ourselves away, not when we should have but when there wasn’t another penny within grunting distance of either-sized arm. Hands, even arms I thought, wouldn’t muddy the water or displease the owners of the mall. Whole bodies and pink bubble gum-covered clothing was another story. I’m still surprised neither child tumbled in.
I’m not sure our experience should be repeated, or that hundreds of local youngsters should swarm into malls and while away lazy hours retrieving and re-tossing pennies into fountain pools. Someone could get hit in the eye, harm a passerby or yield to temptation and redirect the coins toward chocolate-chip or pink bubble gum ice cream.
I was just grateful to see childhood imagination in action again, and to rediscover the price of fun. Except for the ice cream, our whole afternoon cost less than 35 cents. And not once did either child say, “Grandma, I’d rather watch TV.”
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer, and author of the recently published book, As Long As the Rivers Run: Highlights from Columbia County’s Past. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)