Thursday, January 14, 2010
I recently spent a marvellous week with my surrogate grandmother, during which time I did a lot of shopping. Rather, I jabbed an enthusiastic finger at a lot of objects I was drawn to, and my friend, as is her nature, swept in and scooped them up- either secretly when I sidled away to examine another corner, or by means of pushing me over and telling me to hush the protests, that it was her treat.
As the days progressed, as we happily sloshed our way through town under a snow-laden sky, I made great efforts to limit the pointing and the picking up and the commenting; but it was Christmas, and the gorgeous swirls of festive colour captured my attention, so that before I knew it I had confessed to liking such and such, and before I knew more, such and such was staring at me from the shopping cart.
I ought to have reined in my brimming joy when I glimpsed, in a thrift store, an enormous, winter-clad stuffed penguin with jolly yellow feet that spilled over the shelf. I made an exclamation of admiration.
My friend, who stood behind me, declared that he was now my own; she asked the assistant to hold the penguin for us at the counter while we continued shopping, an excursion I made sure to undertake with mouth firmly closed, teeth clenched, and index fingers wedged in pockets where they could cause no trouble.
I could not hope to possess everything I took a shine to, certainly not at my friend's expense- and, anyhow, the small apartment and pared-down lifestyle that Spouse and I shared would simply not allow it.
I resolved, then, to be thrifty with my opinions and to be observant in learning what bits and pieces my friend was attracted to so that I might turn the tables on her.
As we explored the store, I hummed all my comments.
I did not trust myself to use whole words, knowing that a single utterance would put the book or the hat or the piece of pottery into the shopping cart.
We returned, too soon, to the grey afternoon, and I stood beside the car and waited for my friend to unlock it.
"Do you hear something?" Her back was to me; I had not, apparently, heard what she heard.
"It sounds like a child."
I remarked that I did not hear a child.
"Crying for its mother. I hear it. Don't you hear it?"
There was nobody in sight but the two of us, if one chose not to include the gigantic penguin.
I insisted again that I had heard no sound such as she described.
"It's calling "Mommy, Mommy. I'm absolutely sure it's a boy, somewhere." My friend said this without turning to me, which I thought highly unusual, given the possibility that the child, if one was in range, may be a distance behind her, and not in front.
I believe I frowned at just that point; I said that one of us seemed to have the gift of extraordinary hearing.
"I hear it. It's definitely crying for its mother," my friend sang, in the same instant she turned to face me. She was laughing.
Clasped warm in her hands was a smaller, softer version of my penguin, whose price tag she had been tearing off while her back was to me.
"You see- I just couldn't separate them!"
I accepted the little creature, added him to my rapidly growing penguin collection. Now, however, that I wished to make a remark, I found I was at a loss- no words could match the gesture or the overwhelming aura of kindness present at the scene.
I was thoroughly stunned.
I must, all along and in spite of my best efforts to the contrary, have been humming in code; and she, being a superlative surrogate grandmother, was consummate in the art of surprise.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:19 PM