Lately we've been taking excursions in the afternoon. Sometimes it's grocery shopping, or to the library and then grocery shopping. Or a walk in the neighborhood. Last week we managed to combine several things by taking a walk down the road to go shopping.
That day, the air was perfect - a slight nip in the late afternoon - and the sun was shining golden and warm as we set out. Down the street, over the bridge with its very scary traffic passing underneath at top speeds, down the block, and around the corner. The area is not a walker's paradise, although there are nice sidewalks the length of our route. But most people who have cars, use them. The only people out walking are those without transportation of which there are many, and a few, like me, who would rather use this an excuse to walk. Still, it is a bustling area, where several neighborhoods and commercial development intersect.
The little girl's pink hat stands out like a beacon, announcing: Small Cute Person Here. Several neighbors and random passing strangers beam at her as we pass. Nice day for a walk, one woman notes with a smile. One driver waiting to turn magnanimously waves us across the street, refusing my offer for him to go first. I wryly mime that we will have to walk slowly across the wider intersection, and he just grins and waits for us to pass.
We make our way down the sidewalk and the wheels of the stroller click along with each seam of concrete, bump ity bump ity bump with the occasional hiss and scratch of an autumn leaf caught in the wheels. I pause at another corner and bend down to check on the little girl. She is quiescent, taking it all in, snug in her cozy hat and fleece jacket tucked around her legs. Pink, pink and more shades and patterns of pink war with each other. Even her cheeks are pink out in the air.
We angle in across a parking lot into the grocery store, then make our way inside. I don't shop much here any more, but I know they have anise extract, unlike any other store I would rather shop. Having found that, I buy two, enough to make pizelles and other Christmas goodies for a few more years. I look for chili powder, but am disgusted that none among the seven varieties available leave out salt. The little girl looks at displays and listens to me mutter about food additives. I take a little walk down the seasonal aisle with its cans of pumpkin pie filling and Christmas ornaments and candy, telling her about what we are seeing.
Off we go again. On the way home, we cruise into the local pet supply store. I don't need to buy anything, but it's my best source for showing the little girl live animals. We look at colorful finches and budgies, then at some mice, though the mice are all snoozing. The hamsters make her exclaim in astonishment. One brown and white female busily chews down a long stalk of hay. There are no bunnies today, but plenty of fish in various sizes and colors. The little girl seems to take note. As a bonus, a couple of small puppies pass closely by as we leave.
Off we go into the near sunset. The shadows are lower than I expected, the return sidewalk now in shade where I expected us to face full sun. Leaves skitter and dance as cars pass by, and the traffic below the bridge is even heavier. I briskly pass down our long, quiet street, finally, worried that it is getting too chilly for the baby, although when I tuck her hands into her fuzzy sleeves, they don't feel cold. The woman who knitted the pink hat isn't home yet, so I can't show her how well the little girl wears it, but I make a note to check back later.
At last, home is in sight beneath the slowly turning colors. Our neighbor's children stand off in the distance wheeling their scooters through the leaves on the street until they recognize us coming, and all five of them come streaming towards us.
I recite their names and they wiggle and smile in pleasure when I remember them, each one. How cute she is! Lily cries. She has your cheeks, Henri says. I know he means it as a compliment! Marisol notes, Aww, look at the hat!, and I tell them that one of our neighbors down the street knitted it for her. We discuss who she is and they recognize that she is the small woman who walks with the taller woman who has the big white dog. This is how we know our neighbors.
How old is she now? they want to know again. The littlest child, Joseph, leans forward as if to kiss her, and I caution him that he has not washed his hands. You know how they tell you in school to wash your hands, I appeal to the group. I don't know this for a fact, but I guess that the schools are being very cautious with the flu this year. Yes! another neighborhood boy affirms. And babies can get sick!
Yes, and you can you, too, I confirm, so it's good to be extra careful. In fact the little girl has been sniffly all week, but it appears to be a little allergy from the changing weather. Then she starts starting to whimper and cry from the press of faces around her, and we take our leave and go in to have some dinner.
How pleasant it is to not only walk but to enjoy interactions with neighbors and strangers on a fine Fall afternoon. We come inside flushed and alert from the walk into the house that now feels excessively cozy. I pull off the pink hat and the little girl's hair springs up from the static.