saturday stroll

Last Saturday was a lazy day, warm and sunny. In the late afternoon when a breeze kicked in I gathered Calvin and Rudy for a walk to the shady college campus nearby.

I scuffed along at a snail’s pace in loose leather flip-flops and a tank top with my cargos rolled up, under a straw hat tied at my chin. I strolled leisurely like one does over steaming hot asphalt on a sultry day in New Orleans. Welcome shade graced us from a grove of white pines, the sun filtering through thick, heavy branches. Calvin sat upright in the jogger and played happily with his bare feet, giggling to himself. He’s still such a baby, I thought fondly, leaning down to smother him with kisses every few yards, to which he squealed with delight.

I had left Calvin's glasses at home so I didn’t have to worry about him ripping them off sideways and pitching them into the brush. Even so, on campus he eyed a bank of creamy hydrangeas and reached out to them. I moved closer so he could grab the powdery globes. “See the pretty white flowers, Calvin? Can you touch them?” It was nice to see him explore the puffs with his hands for a good long time. “Good job, sweetie,” then he tore off a bloom and tried to stick it in his mouth. I remembered back to when he was an infant and reached out to nothing, not even the brightest toys held within his feeble reach, his tiny arms hanging slack like noodles at his sides, his brain not knowing what to do or how.

As we reached the main quad we passed a woman and her son. The little blond boy looked to be about Calvin’s age—seven, perhaps younger—and she was leaning over helping him with his bicycle. We strolled on. Further ahead a young man sat alone on a near hillside abutting some brick dormitories. As we strode on past we smiled at each other and I called back for Rudy to catch up.

At the far end of campus we started to loop back following our original route. Perched on the same grassy slope where the man had been was the woman I had seen earlier with her boy. I realized that they were a family. She was crouching on her feet, perched like a gargoyle, arms wrapped around her knees, her hands tightly holding her elbows looking out into the quad. Severe bangs shadowed her narrow dark eyes and when she looked at me—at us—I flashed a genuine smile. The smile was returned with a hard stare. My mind raced wondering what she was thinking. Was my casual look so distasteful? Might she have been repulsed by my skinny knobby-kneed barefoot pigeon-toed boy poking both of his eyes and spouting strange guttural, albeit happy, sounds? Perhaps she was completely unaware of our crossing before her, caught in some sort of furrowed-brow vexed trance. I couldn’t be sure.

When I looked away from her the boy and his dad were rounding the near corner of a paved path. The man was awkwardly holding the handlebars supporting the bike, reaching one arm across his son’s chest to grasp the far handle. The boy, with his mother’s same stormy eyes, looked serious, weary, maybe even frightened as his father, now stoic, pushed him along. No words of encouragement were spoken, in fact no words were uttered at all as they rolled past the mother to complete one more lap. None of them seemed to be having any fun.

I continued on and when we reached the intersection near our home Calvin, as he always does, became animated. Since he was an infant he has somehow recognized that exact section of street, even without his glasses, knowing he is close to home. “We’re almost home,” I say to him. “Are you excited, sweetie?” and I lean down to kiss him knowing full well that he is.

photo by Michael Kolster