- Written by Meena Meena
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Tales from the Heart: Precious Moments
July 2008 issue
NAMPA Award: First Place, Personal Essay
“Wak wak.” His tiny hands tugged at my shirt. “Wak wak, Gamma, walk.”
I was sitting on the front steps of my daughter’s house, enjoying the cool breeze and trying to entertain my grandson by pointing to the activities on the street.
“Wak wak.” He kept up the tugging so that I had to find out what it was he was trying to get my attention to.
“What does Saleem want?” I called out to my daughter, busy inside the house.
“Oh! That’s his latest obsession,” she said, coming out to the porch. “He wants to show off his mint. Everyone who comes to this house has to go with him to see his mint. I think you better go with him, otherwise he will keep at it until you oblige.”
“Mint, what mint?” I knew there was no mint in my daughter’s garden.
“He knows where it is. Just let him take you.” My daughter seemed to be pretty confident of her child’s abilities. “Only don’t let him leave your hand and run off, which he is very good at doing.”
The last instruction, of course, was a mother’s concern, not that she had any doubts about my ability to care for him.
“Wak, wak.” The tugging resumed, now with more urgency.
“OK, Saleem, if you will hold on to Grandma’s hand and promise not to leave, I will go with you.” He was all smiles, springing up and down on his chubby baby legs, which was his way of saying, “Yes, Grandma.”
Saleem was my first grandson and the only one at that time. He was at that stage in life where he talked in a language that required interpretation by his mother, walked as if his legs were fitted with springs, and was curious about everything around him.
The living room and the dining room in the house were both stripped of all the movable objects, leaving some heavy furniture and the bare essentials only. My daughter, his mother, felt that it was a wiser move than dotting the child’s day with “dos” and “don’ts.” He had just turned 2.
Saleem took my hand, dragged me off my seat on the step, and we started to walk. The distance from the steps to the sidewalk was only half a dozen steps. When we closed the wicket gate behind us, he made the first stop of the walk, which was more like a guided tour.
The rock lying by the gate was not very large or exceptionally pretty. But in the child’s eyes it was more precious than a diamond. He bent down, picked the small rock, held it tight in his palm and then, as an afterthought, opened his tiny fist to show it to me.
“Gamma, ock, petty ock.” The “R” sound was yet to come.
The next few steps found him stopping by a crack in the sidewalk. An army of ants went in and out, marching in a very orderly fashion. They were transporting an unexpected supply of food found on the sidewalk.
Saleem turned to me and announced very firmly, “ans ouse.” Thinking that he didn’t make an impression on me he bent down, touched the crack in the pavement and repeated, “Ans ouse, yum yum.”
I watched the ants for a couple of minutes — the orderly way in which they went about their business in two columns: one column, carrying food into their home in the crack, while the other moved in the opposite direction toward the source of the food. They were probably hurrying to stock their food supply before the famous Oregon rain came pouring down. It is amazing how they don’t need a weatherman to predict the changes, or do they?
My daughter told me later that the ants did have a permanent colony underground, and watching them go about their work was one of Saleem’s favorite pastimes. She had already given a lesson on ants — habits and habitats — to her son.
We watched the ants for a few seconds and then Saleem must have remembered that, as the guide, he had to perform certain duties. He stood up, took my hand, and started to pull me, which I figured was easier for him than words, and I followed meekly to continue the tour.
When we came to the corner where we had to take a left turn, he stopped to admire a small flowering plant with tiny violet flowers. He bent down, looked at it, touched it, and then his hand was back in mine. It amazed me to see that the child did not pick even a single flower. I guessed his mother must have taught him to leave the flowers as they were, so other people too could enjoy their beauty. I gave a plus mark to my daughter for teaching her son not to destroy God’s bounty.
The next stop was a few yards farther down in front of a small house with a wrought-iron gate. An older lady came out of the house. She must have been standing inside the screen door, watching the street too.
“Hi, baby,” she greeted the child. “Are you taking Grandma to look at the mint again?” Then, to me, “I thought you weren’t coming back until next Tuesday.” I was puzzled since I had never met the woman before. Seeing my puzzled expression, she continued. “Didn’t he take you yesterday to look at that mint?”
I recalled what my daughter had said earlier, that Saleem was taking everyone to look at his mint. I recalled also that his other grandmother visited every Tuesday. I put two and two together and said, “Oh! That was his father’s mother; I am the other grandma.”
The child was getting impatient to move on. The tugging was getting urgent. We continued the tour with Saleem inspecting a few sticks and stones and some blades of grass here and there. He seemed to be very aware of his goal, for he did not tarry long.
We must have walked another 4 or 5 yards when he stopped suddenly. “Come, let us hurry,” I said, anxious that his mother would start worrying if we stayed away too long. But instead of moving, the child bent down and picked a small leaf. He sniffed at it a couple of times and then pulled me down and held it to my nose.
It was “his mint,” of course. His eyes shone bright with the pleasure of experiencing the smell and the satisfaction he derived from sharing his find. Watching the small face beaming with pleasure, a lump rose in my throat ever so slowly.
The small cluster of mint just happened to be there on the sidewalk outside the fence of a neighbor. No one had planted it. And I said to myself, God had arranged for it to grow there to give a little child the pleasure of discovering it, experiencing its fragrance, and the joy of sharing it with others.
And then the realization came to me that God had arranged for that mint to grow in that particular place, not only for the child, but also for me to see it through the child’s eyes — to feel the pure pleasure of experiencing something with no thought of gain or loss, nor the greed for possession or the need for comments.
“I walked with him and I talked with him …” The lines from the Christian hymn kept playing in my head over and over again.
If this wasn’t “walking with God,” then what was?
Meena is the author of a series of stories for children called Tumbledown Tales. Her work can be found on Amazon.com.