I took a neighbor's child to Willow Springs this week. He's entering his last year of elementary school and to my surprise, was a delight to hang out with.
When we got to the Water Park, he just looked at the water and quietly asked me how deep it was. Then he chose a picnic table, deposited his stuff and walked right into the pool, stopping only fractionally when the cool water first hit his feet and legs. Once he was fully in the water he cautiously headed out towards the middle, still matter-of-factly using me as a sounding board: how deep is it here? How deep is it going to be over there? Now how deep do you think it is? More than once, he solemnly informed me that he didn't want to drown but as long as he could stand on his tip-toes and bounce, he'd be okay.
In between depth soundings, he chatted about his dog whom he obviously loves. Later, after the dog topic wore out, I asked him if he had any brothers or sisters. He stared at me and then said flatly, "Yes." Nothing else. Just "Yes." So I hazarded a guess: you like your dog better than your siblings?
He looked startled at my perspicuity and then threw back his head, laughing with sheer joy. Somewhere in all the laughter was a resounding "Yes!":)
It wasn't until we'd been in the pool for a while that he said, "When I saw this place, I thought: this is the biggest pool I'd ever seen!! I was scared!!" This was news to me: I knew he was concerned about the depth of the water obviously but I didn't realize this was the biggest body of water he'd ever been in .
I told him that he hadn't shown fear and he quietly thanked me but added, "This pool is huge! I really was scared but I went in anyhow. But still... I've never been in anything like this before!"
At one point, I headed for the "shore" while he stayed in the water, near the slide. By this time, he said he'd been outside so long the sun was turning his feet white...! I told him that was curious: the same sun was turning my nose red!
Later, while he voluntarily guarded our things, I left the park to get a burger order for us but the girl who waited on me was in-training and although we went over the order three times, things still got a little garbled. I finally took what I hoped were two cheese burgers back to the water park and set the sack on the picnic table. My new friend dug into the first cheese burger and when I told him it was supposed to have ketchup on it, he quit eating long enough to examine the inside of the bun. "Nope! It doesn't have any. But that's okay! At least she got two burgers in the sack!!!" When we realized there were no fries, I told him it was just her first day on the job.To my surprise, he looked sympathetic and said, "Oh, wow. Then she did good!"
After lunch, we both got back in the water and separated at the water slide.
As I made my way across the pool, trying to exercise my joints, I saw an older swimmer like myself, a man who looked a little rough around the edges, and I realized he was just glaring at me. I've gone to this park for years and never had a cross word from anyone so I decided to ignore Mr. Grumpy, which I did. Everybody has their bad days and everybody else I saw was very friendly. Maybe he was in the water for the same reason I was: arthritis can definitely wipe the smile off your face...
Later, while I was sitting at the picnic table reading, I again saw this man several tables away, leaning over and frowning in my direction. There was no one else in between us - the other tables were empty. I thought: what is this man's problem?
And then I knew. Or thought I knew.
One over-weight, grandmotherly white woman and one young, super-bright, polite, funny African American boy.
I immediately assumed the guy was a bigot and then spent the next few minutes thinking of what I'd like to say to him: sorry, the child and I don't hang out with bigots... or you needn't glare in my direction, the opinion of racist red-necks has never been high on my list of things to worry about...
By the time I got through formulating my "snappy" responses, he was gone and the child was still happily wandering all over the pool, having conquered his fear admirably. From the beginning of our time together until the end, the boy was never anything but helpful, polite, funny, and appreciative.
Hopefully the disgruntled guy a few tables down was just having a bad day...
If not, then maybe ... if we ever run across him again - which is not likely - and if he ever changes his manners and minds his "p's and q's".. then maybe - just maybe - we'll let him associate with us and in time - who knows? The boy's impeccable outlook on life might eventually rub off on the old guy, making him a better person in the process...