Sunday we went to the seasonal garden center to purchase plants for our garden. In the parking lot I spotted an older woman. She was loading the trunk of her car although I didn’t notice with what, and she kept looking in our direction.
I hoisted Penelope into a large shopping cart. She dangled on her sockless feet rain boots, which were a couple sizes too big. They were a recent birthday present and decorated with pink and red strawberries. It was almost ninety degrees and I thought her feet must have been dripping with sweat inside the thick rubber.
So the woman approached us commenting on how darling Penelope was, and “Where did we get those boots?” she inquired. I told her that I had ordered them on-line and spelled out the brand for her. I was thinking of my slight splurge and guessing that a pair would likely be out of this woman’s budget in case she had interest in buying rain boots for a little granddaughter.
She smiled vaguely with big, wide eyes and curly dyed hair most likely recently set at the beauty shop. I could see she wasn’t really interested in any details or the possibility of buying rain boots. She moved on. “I found a raincoat at Wal-Mart, but the zipper didn’t work well. It only zipped halfway! I took it back. Why would you keep something faulty after all?”
I smiled and nodded in complete agreement trying to find an exit in order to rejoin with Pat and Abe already ahead browsing the herbs.
She changed the subject asking how old Penelope was. I restated the question asking Penelope how old she was in an absurd, sticky sweet voice that suited an episode of Barney but certainly must not belong to me. She dutifully displayed her fingers configured in an Okee Dokee formation as she had done many times the past week of her birthday. “Oh, three! You’ve made it through the terrible two’s, didn’t you?” Yes, I confirmed, nodding some more and made some regrettable comment regarding her difficult behavior in front of my three-year-old daughter that somehow felt like I had branded her as a naughty girl. I immediately felt ashamed.
“When I was little and misbehaved, my Dad gave me the belt!” she announced and thereby violently interrupted my internal self-criticism. Her eyes were wider now and I suspect mine were too. Unsure of how I should react and wanting more than ever to be mulling over which shade of pink impatiens I should plant, I simply stared back. She choked out a laugh which I couldn’t determine whether it was a reaction to my visible discomfort or some nostalgic feelings.
“I did something really stupid one time. I hid under my bed thinking he wouldn’t be able to get me there. Well, he got me, for sure, and he beat me much worse for it! I sure learned my lesson!” She laughed loudly this time. “Well, I’ll let you go.” she said abruptly perhaps realizing I wasn’t eager to discuss corporal punishment or perhaps because I was backing away in desperation at not knowing how to respond or even wanting to. How do you reconcile the happy grin and jovial interest in rain gear with memories of such physical and emotional pain? This question mixed uneasily with the residual frustration caused by Penelope’s daily resistance to shoes on her feet resulting in compromises such as rain boots without socks on a sunny, ninety-degree day.
“I hope you find what you’re looking for” she wished our way as we rolled ahead in pursuit of new thoughts and plants to nurture in our garden.