Wednesday, July 05, 2017

July 5, 2017--Midcoast: Counting to 30

"I can count to 30."

We were in the waiting area while our car's wheels were again being aligned. With the battered roads in Maine we have to arrange for this two or three times a year. So I was not feeling happy. In fact, I was grumpy.

And so when the little girl sitting with us proclaimed her arithmetical abilities I buried my head deeper into the paper. And what I was reading did not lighten my mood. Half the front page was devoted to the obscene things Donald Trump had said about Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough. And turning to the distraction of the sports page, I read that the Yankees had been trounced again, losing their substantial lead in the 8th inning.

Altogether, I was not having a good morning.

"15, 16, 17, 18," the girl chanted, squirming with pleasure in her chair. Rona was already having a wonderful time.

She looked to be about five and was wearing a dress and patent leather shoes. She was all alone.

She can't be waiting for a car, I thought, indulging my cynical self. Her parents must still be at the service counter.

Back to the Times I tried to ignore her and Rona. If I were honest, the Yankees more than Trump were getting under my skin. They started the season so well and now they were losing almost every night. Following the Yankees was one of the ways I could block out some of the agita engendered by Trump's daily outrages. But not for the past four weeks. The Yankees were supplying plenty of agita on their own.

"21, 22, 23." At 23, the girl paused and looked up at the ceiling as if searching for answers.

To help Rona said, "24."

After a moment of additional struggle, the girl gleefully said, "25!"

"You're doing so well," Rona said. "What comes after 25?"

"26," the girl smiled and got up to get a cup of water from the cooler.

"You really know your numbers," Rona said.

The girl picked up where she left off and, now grinning, said, "27!"

"You're getting close to 30," Rona said, seeing she was beginning to struggle again. "What's next? After 27? I'll bet you know."

The girl, curled up in her chair, began counting on her fingers and said, "28," and, gushing, immediately added, "29!"

I put the paper down to listen and observe and was actually beginning to enjoy myself. I could sense Rona tensing, trying to not be too helpful but yet not wanting to cause the girl to become too frustrated. It was a complicated balance to strike.

"30!" she exclaimed, now bouncing in her chair. "I told you so. I can count to 30!"

"You did it," Rona said, all excited, "How about more? Can you keep counting?"

The girl shook her head, but, looking skeptical, still tried, "30-30?" She knew she had hit a wall.

"You want me to help?" Rona asked. Shyly the girl nodded her head, "30, 31," Rona paused, the girl said nothing and so Rona said, "32."

And before she could continue the girl quickly added, "33, 34, 35, 36." She was grinning broadly.

"I knew you could do it," Rona said.

Now all excited the girl counted, "37, 38, 39," she paused, then said, "30-10."

"That's very interesting," Rona said, "Very clever." The girl stared at her. She knew she hadn't come up with the right number and thus was curious why Rona was praising her.

"It's probably a little too complicated for me to try to explain to you why, though 30-10 doesn't come after 39, in many ways, what you said was, as I said, interesting."

The girl seemed satisfied with that. "After 39," Rona said, "comes 40."

The girl repeated, "40," and with that asked, "How old are you?"

Before dealing with that, Rona said, "My name's Rona. What's yours?"

"I'm Julie," she said, reaching out to shake hands.

"Julie is one of my favorite names," Rona said.

"How old are you, Roma?" she repeated.

"How old do you think I am?" Rona asked.

Julie stroked her chin, looking carefully at Rona out of the corner of her eye. "25?" she said.

"I like that," Rona said, "But I'm older than that. Take another guess."

Julie now was peering at her, "27?" Still happy with her guess, Rona shook her head. "20-12?" Julie asked.

"Do you mean 32?" Julie now was bouncing in her seat. With that a man approached us to ask if Julie, his daughter, was being a bother.

"Not at all," both Rona and I said, "She's showing us how good she is at counting."

"She made it all the way to 40," I said. "How old is she? She's very precocious."

"I'm precious," Julie said, again smiling.

"That too," Rona said. "How old are you?"

"Six," Julie said, holding up five fingers of one hand and one of the other, "I'm waiting for my mother. We're going to a parade."

"Are you OK with her?" her father said. He indicated that he worked at the auto dealership.

"Absolutely," Rona said, "Our car won't be ready for at least another half hour. She's is delightful."

When her father was back at his desk, Julie, leaning closer to Rona whispered, "Do you know how old Jesus is?"

"Who?" I said, not sure I had understood.

Still looking at Rona, Julie said, "Jesus. From the church."

"No one's ever asked me that," Rona said, "That's a really good question. Do you go to church?"

"Just on Sunday," Julie said. "But I don't like it there. They won't let me sit with my father. My brother can. He's nine."

Being a little cautious about the subject, Rona said, "Maybe when you're nine they'll let you sit with him." And then to change the subject back to counting, Rona asked, "If you're six and he's nine, how many more years will it be until you are nine?"

I tried to catch Rona's eye to suggest she not frustrate her with a question too difficult for someone her age. Even someone as obviously bright as Julie.

"Is Jesus a man or a woman?" Julie asked, ignoring Rona's subtraction question.

Not looking directly at Julie, Rona said, "I don't . . ."

"There's my mommy," Julie said, all excited. She hopped off her chair and ran over to her. She grabbed hold of her mother's jacket and tugged her to us, "This is my friend Roma," she said, "And he's her father," Julie said, pointing at me. I am in fact nearly 20 years older than Rona so this was not such a bad guess. Many others had assumed the same thing.

"Nice to meet you," Her mother said, "I hope she didn't talk your ear off. She can do that."

"Not at all," Rona said, "She's delightful. And very smart."

"Are you ready for the parade?" her mother asked?

Julie squealed and ran toward the door. When she got there, waiting for her mother, she turned to wave goodbye. And then they were gone.

As it turned out, the wheels did not need realigning and there was no charge.

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