Near my house there’s a footbridge over Corte Madera Creek, where I say hello to the duck families. The ducks appear whenever they feel like it at different levels on the water, depending on the rain. Some move right along without stopping. Some swim in slow circles under the bridge, obviously accustomed to passersby, and some glide to a strand of rocks that’s exposed in the creek, where they waddle around for a while. Some days the ducks aren’t there at all and I wait in vain, wondering why they’re not anywhere near as interested in us as we are in them.
The bridge curves up slightly in the middle, like the ones in storybook illustrations. I stop at the very center, in the best duck-watching spot. Coming toward me on the path is a young boy with a white-haired lady close behind. He’s small, with a mop of dark hair and a handsome face highlighted by Harry Potter glasses in a bright color, with a professorial band around the back to hold them in place.
He speaks up like a person very much at home in the world. He says hello and takes a spot next to me at the railing. I move over a bit so he can have the center. I mention I haven’t seen any ducks today.
He says, “My name is Oscar. The ducks were here earlier.” He adds, in a wistful voice, “Maybe they’ll come back later.” He brightens and announces, “We’re having burritos for lunch.”
The woman with the pretty white hair approaches and the three of us watch the water.
Oscar says, “We’re eating at the burrito place because they’re so big. It’s hard to walk home with them.”
The lady nods, “That’s right.”
“Grandson?” I ask.
“Yes,” she smiles and Oscar says,
“Granny, we better get going.”
He turns back to reassure me. “Maybe the ducks will be here when we come back.”
For a second I’m puzzled at why such a young boy with a pleasant smile is so serious today. It occurs to me that he’s repeating answers he’s heard in response to questions he must have asked many times. Can we go see the ducks? Can we eat at a table outside today? Will the ducks be there when we come back? Can we have one of the big burritos?
My granddaughter, who’s three, has questions every time we ask her to go get her shoes. She’s learning that the world can be complicated. Just because you set out on a walk with your grandma to see the ducks, that doesn’t mean the ducks will always be there. Just because you like to eat at a table outside, where the birds will pester you for part of your lunch, that doesn’t mean an outside table will always be open.
I ask the departing Granny, “Does Oscar live close to you?” She says yes, just across the bay in Berkeley. I tell her how lucky she is and add, in the way that all fairly new grandmas do when talking to strangers, how much I miss the little girl who lives a few hundred miles away. She says, “Yes, I am lucky,” and she makes a circle with her arms, “Oscar is close enough to get my arms around him a couple of days a week.”
Normally this would make me sad, but not today. Next weekend is Easter and my girl is coming to visit. The first thing we’ll do is put on our walking shoes and go looking for ducks.
Ó By Anita Garner 2008