There is a convenience store exactly halfway to my friend's house. I was heading there to help demolish his old garage and remembered to stop. They sell the good stuff, and nothing starts a day of saw, sledgehammer, and shovel work better than the true Colombian. Coffee, that is.
I pulled in at eight, walked in, and waited for my turn at the coffee urns. The lady in front of me was filling two cups. I heard laughing, and glanced over to see a couple of small boys dart around the corner. Eight a.m. on a warm fall morning, on a Saturday, is a good time to hear laughter. I smiled.
Dad corralled the older boy - maybe six years old, but wiry and tall already, like his dad - had him help bring what had to be picnic supplies up to the register. Mom was still dumping creamers, stirring in sugar. She noticed me and scooted to the side enough for me to grab a carafe and fill my travel cup. Then I added raw sugar and my last remaining vice, french vanilla creamer, to my drink.
"Ya'll going picnicking today?" I ask.
"Yes. Maybe the boys will play enough to sleep tonight." And she says this at eight in the morning?
I hear a giggle and look across the store. There is a row of upside down soft drink cups on a bare counter at the back of the store, just visible over the stock shelves. While I watch, I see another cup tacked up onto the end of the line, two little dark hands carefully placing it just so, then disappearing. I walk over to the end aisle to get a better look.
The youngest kid is maybe four. I watch him pull a medium sized cup out of the dispenser magazine and carry it over to the row already set up on the counter. He sees me and flashes me such a grin that I almost laugh out loud. But he is intense, and a picture of concentration as he stands the cup next in line. Then he heads back down the line, counting each cup. He gets to the end and stops. He looks over his shoulder at me, still smiling, and whispers "fifteen!" and pulls another cup.
I stepped back to the coffee service and said -
"Having a good time, though, right?"
"Yes, of course. It's a beautiful day."
"Your youngest is counting cups. I'll help you put them back. He's being careful."
She chuckles and shakes her head.
"It's okay, ma'am. Boys are ... just boys."
The family is just finishing up at the register when I step into the line. They are heading to the door when a crap blue Ford F-150 screeches to a stop at the curb directly in front of the entrance. The front tires actually bounce off the curb face. There's a dealer temporary plate taped onto the window behind the driver's head. He and his partner tumble out of their doors. They are both tattooed, pierced, guaged, possibly stoned and certainly unwashed. There is a two foot square transparent poster of Che Guevara taped onto the window behind the passenger's seat.
They barge into the door, pushing the doubles almost into Mom, who drops her bag, which causes Dad to straighten up to his full six foot four or five height. It's not so much the height but the fact his shoulders pretty well fill the aisle he stands in... and he's suddenly very still... that cause Laurel and Hardy to finally take notice of their environment. A waft of that old Mary Jane reek rolls over me at the register.
It is very quiet in the store. The ice cream freezer behind the cashier's island needs some work - the whuckawhuckawhucka of the compressor is the only sound in the shop.
"I'm sorry." mumbles the driver.
"Okay." says dad, and picks up his wife's bag. He follows his family out through the door held by the passenger. I hadn't noticed, but both sons had faded all the way to the back of the store, directly behind their dad. That's a family that understands each other.
"Hey, mister, you didn't pay money for that poster, I hope?", I ask.
"That one doesn't have the mickey mouse ears. How can you tell if he was a real communist hero if he doesn't have the ears? A joke is a joke, you know."
The cashier says, "Sir, your coffee is on the house."
And we even went shooting later. What a fine day this was.