“Look, Grandpa, we have to go in that one!” Lyrica let go of Mario’s hand and ran the four steps to the front door of the kite shop, her glittered lavender sandals clip-clipping against the sidewalk that pulsed with midsummer heat.
“Sure, Ricki, go ahead, I’ll be right behind you, as always,” he called to the blond ponytail that was bouncing underneath her Miami Dolphins baseball cap as she disappeared into the rainbow array of kites of every shape and size. It was a sizzling hot summer Sunday afternoon in Annapolis, where Mario had come to visit his son, Ernesto and his wife Julia, but of course Lyrica was the real pull. Having grown up in Havana and spent most of his adult life in Miami, Mario had no problem with the heat – – or so he thought, as he wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead. He stood for a moment with his back to the shop window, staring out toward the Old Town waterfront and the pedestrian mall thronging with people. Beyond the sun-glassed, tank-topped, flip-flopped, sun-screened crowd (or, at least he hoped they were sun-screened, so many gringos in one place never ceasing to surprise him) was Annapolis harbor and the bay dotted with white triangles. The memory of Mario’s own perilous boat ride clutched at his guts and his throat. He gave his shoulders a little shake and allowed the relief of shade and air conditioning to soothe his thoughts as he closed the door behind him, looking over the heads of strangers until he spotted the bouncing ponytail.
“Grandpa, isn’t this just the cutest thing you ever SAW? I want to show it to mom and dad, can I? Please?”
Ernesto wouldn’t approve, Mario was sure. Perhaps because his own upbringing had happened in the thick of more children than he could remember, Mario felt in his bones that Lyrica was unusually mature for her age – – at least, in some ways. She asked provoking questions that sometimes made him squirm, although he never let that stop him from doing his best to give her truthful and equally thoughtful answers. On the other hand, she still shimmered with the innocence of an especially privileged childhood, as demonstrated by her swooning over this particular kite that was shaped, colored and patterned after the very hungry caterpillar. Ricki’s complete collection of Eric Carle’s books was a point of pride: she kept them straight and tidy on her bookshelf, read at least one every single night at bedtime; even recited a couple of them by memory for her classmates.
Ernesto wouldn’t approve of the kite, just like he didn’t approve of Ricki’s continuing to read books that were written, in Ernesto’s opinion, for much less “sophisticated” kids. Ever since Ricki was born Mario had worked to balance Ernesto’s demands for only the best, most advanced opportunities for his daughter with what Mario knew to be the preciousness of early childhood naivete. Ernesto scolded Mario often for “spoiling” his daughter, but Mario knew, as well as he knew anything, that this kite would thrill his granddaughter’s soul, not just now but for years to come.
“Sure, Ricki, I’ll get it for you, happily.”
She glowed, and so did Mario’s heart.
Cover photo by Klara Kulikova on Unsplash