Here's the rest of the story, as it appeared in last Sunday's Beaumont Enterprise. You can click (twice) on the image for quicker reading, perhaps, or it's all below, should you be interested. It remains one of my favorite stories.
On a sweltering afternoon, my car's transmission went out, leaving me stranded in a small town between Houston and Dallas.
Luckily, I had managed to sputter into the parking lot of a barbecue joint, where, after making a phone call and ordering a large lemonade, I clopped up a hill to a picnic table and sat down to sulk. I had at least two hours to kill before help arrived, and I could think of a hundred things I’d rather be doing than twiddling my thumbs in the middle of nowhere.
God, I said with a stirring sigh, why did this have to happen?
I was headed to my sister’s, where the two of us were driving to a lakeside cabin—the first time we’d taken a vacation without husbands and kids. This delay wouldn’t stop our plans, but it did nothing for my mood.
As I brooded, a white-haired couple strolled up the hill, hand-in-hand with a young fellow about three years old who was doing serious damage to an ice-cream cone. Just what I needed—a pesky kid to annoy me.
With a friendly nod, they settled in at the picnic table across the way.
"Look at that big ant, Grandpa," the youngster said, his voice full of wonder. He hunched over the table inspecting his latest find, while a trail of ice-cream trickled down his fingers, headed for his elbow.
"You’re about to lose it, boy," Grandpa said, reaching for his hand. But the lad was quicker to the draw. Making loud slurping noises, he attacked the cone then got back to business.
"Did you know ants have 15 legs, Grandpa?" he said authoritatively.
"Fifteen? You sure about that?" He winked at Grandma.
“If I could fly, I'd fly up to the top of that big, old tree." The boy was now pointing to the tip of the oak towering above my head.
Grandma glanced up. "And what on earth would you do in the top of that big old tree?" she asked, her eyes clearly adoring the boy.
He knew immediately. "Just sit," he said. "Or sing. Or—" he shrugged his shoulders, "—something else."
The trio fell silent as the sun dipped behind a band of pines. I stood up and stretched, studying everything in sight. The smear of red in the west. My weary car. The barbecue stand. The dirt beneath my feet. And especially at the boy with the ice-cream cone who, for unknown reasons, was now twirling around like a ballerina, while Grandpa two-stepped around him, guarding the endangered cone.
"Hey!" the youngster shouted, spinning furiously. "I'm dizzy!" Staggering to a stop, the lad pitched backward and landed hard on the ground, somehow managing to keep a grip on the cone.
“Oops,” he said, embarrassed. “I slipped.”
Rallying around him, Grandpa helped him to his feet, brushed off his backside. "Come on, hot rod," he said. "Let's go see if your mama’s arrived."
As they headed down the slope, I stretched out under the oak tree and thought about the boy who, if he could fly, would be perched at its peak—just sitting, or singing or something.
The youngster saw wonders and possibilities right here under an ordinary sky, in what appeared to be a most improbable place.
And I had sat just a few feet away, yet had seen only calamities.
He saw the world as an endless adventure, just waiting to be unfolded and consumed.
While I, at some point, had simply stopped looking.
A breeze ruffled the leaves of the oak. I could still see the boy spinning in circles, his grandfather dancing around him.
All of a sudden, I laughed. Right there on a picnic bench, I laughed out loud. The sound of it, pure and sweet, burst into the pink sky and settled around me like a summer rain. My car’s transmission had not revived, but a weight seemed to lift. I felt liberated from something I couldn’t even define.
I had asked God why I’d been stranded in the middle of nowhere. He answered by sending an exuberant lad my way, to talk of ants, to dream of flying, to dance in the dust with a melting ice-cream cone—to open my eyes to the splendid treasures of an ordinary day.
I could think of no better way to start a vacation.
By Dayle Allen Shockley, from The Beaumont Enterprise. All rights reserved.
Linking up with Gratituesday, a great place to hang out.