charming the surrogate Grandpa

This morning the weather is fresh and temperate with the perfect amount of rain. A welcome reprieve after the mid-80s blasting sun of late last week. I decide to take the wee ones out on the bus for the morning. My daughter is in charge of carrying the backpack, paying bus fare, and holding the pass for the duration of our trip. At 8:07 AM the Castle Hill bus arrives in front of our home. Nels and I sit up front; Sophie takes her customary seat in the back. We are the first on the bus. As the route progresses more people get on: a couple coffee shop bums, a high school girl on her way to school, two commuters. My son smiles flirtatiously at each passenger.

Despite the peaceful bus ride, I haven’t been looking forward at the road and now I am getting carsick. I focus my gaze out the front window. I’m slightly more queasy than seems reasonable and thinking, What is this? Am I hung over? How much red wine did I drink last night? I decide to bail at the first stop on Water Street. I need fresh air and food. Walking hand in hand with Sophie, Nels in the backpack, I find my two favorite downtown coffee shops are closed in the rather unpredictable ways of tourist town restaurants. We stop at the fountain to throw pennies in then head uptown.

The 1012 Coffee House. Suzie is a dear woman and my children love her. She makes us our usual – a steamed milk for Sophie and latte for me. My son toddles / crawls / cruises around the tables and magazine bar. Occasionally he makes a break to get through the screen door to the sidewalk or through the sidedoor to the neighboring tavern kitchen. Today he is molesting all the boat-reprobates in the place. Suzie’s setup has indeed attracted these men, who eschew the snootier cafes in town with fair coffee and lousy service and lavender-scented potatoes. These men vary in age, young to mid-fifties, sitting overlong at small tables and not hoping for much more than good coffee, idle talk, and maybe a young thing in a summer skirt to walk in for viewing pleasure.

Two such men, fifty or so, come in and seat themselves at the one cozy booth. Nels makes his way over and leans on the right knee of one of them. This fellow reminds me of someone I worked with once and I feel an instinctive warmth toward him. He is wearing beat-up jeans, curly salt and pepper hair peeking from beneath a faded cap and he is handsome in a rugged way with a face aged by wind and sun. His square, work-roughened hands rest on top of my son’s head. Nels leans against him, idly chewing on a fingertip. They stay that way for several minutes. Suzie and I grimace at one another, shiny-eyed. The two men ask me about my son. They approve of his name and his little leather cap. It’s a quiet scene and a tender one. I wonder if these men have children of their own; I wonder how much they raised their own children.

It is almost time to catch the bus. If we leave now, we will have time to visit the bakery first. I thank these men for being sweet to my son and pack the kids up. We stop and get bread; the kids play at the bus stop. We board and transfer and I allow my daughter the job of sounding the bell for our stop. Home again, for a while.

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