The boys and I went into the city last week. They’re just done with Kindergarten and Third Grade, so the subway ride alone offered them food for thought. They feasted heir eyes on every passenger and sign in our car.
Then, having climbed up out of that dank subterranean space, they looked around even more:
At the sunning pigeons and the equestrian statues, and the Golden domed Massachusetts State House and the elderly woman who sat in her collapsible chair shaking a fistful of bells, a donation basket on the pavement next to her bare and swollen feet. We waded in the Frog Pond and rode on a carousel. We ate an Italian ice and watched horrified as a bicyclist tearing across the Boston Common braked so suddenly to avoid a darting child that the cyclist flew clean over his handlebars. All this we did see.
And then we met Sheila.
Sheila sells balloons twisted into shapes that are not the usual shapes, like Mickey Mouse head or Bugs Bunny heads, but shapes more whimsical and improvised. One balloon looked like somebody’s appendix, and one looked like a sweet potato. The balloon the Kindergartner was drawn to looked like DNA’s double-stranded helix, three feet long with a braiding of skinny balloons of red, white and blue.
We asked to buy that one.
“Howsabout a face at the top?” she offered, and, opening a bag of shrunken balloon ‘heads’, invited them to inspect it.
The boys chose the superhero Wolverine and Sheila talked as she pumped air into him.
“People ask ‘aren’t you afraid you’re gonna bust ‘em with all that pumping?’ and I want to say “If only you could SEE how many I bust!’ I learned to do this from the balloon men across the park. I got laid off last spring but I have a hawker’s license so balloons it is, for now anyway.”
At last she handed us the DNA one with a bulbous yellow Wolverine balloon tied to its top.
“We just saw the Governor go by!” said the big brother of my pair.
“Did you darlin’?”
“Yes and we were excited because we had just seen his picture in the paper holding his new grandbaby,” I said.
“He has a grandbaby, does he?”
“His oldest daughter’s baby who weighed only two and a half pounds when she was born.”
“Well, there’s nothing like family, whatever size or shape,” she said.
“Right!” I said. “These boys are my family. My grandsons, Edward and David here have two moms at home.”
“There you go!” she shot back. “And this is Malachi,” she said, indicating a boy about ten who we had not noticed before. “He and his brothers have two fathers! And I’m their grandma who takes care of them.”
Family is what family does. You know that I bet,” she added, addressing my two. “We look after each other and it is ALL GOOD in the Lord’s eyes!”
“I think so too,” I said.
We had to move off then, as another party was just approaching her little balloon stand under the trees.
“She was really nice!” Edward exclaimed as his little brother bumped his balloon along the old paving stones.
“Watch out!” I said, but even as I spoke, Wolverine’s head exploded with a bang and the strands of DNA, rapidly unbraiding, turned back into three latex worms.
So, we lost our balloon, but we weren’t sad really. We had had our day with its delights and dramas. And we had met the wonderful Sheila who I am guessing we’ll remember for a long, long time.