A young mother pushing a baby carriage on a warm spring day…
Inside the small buggy, an adorable infant dressed in blue, gurgling with delight…
Impossible not to feel your heart grow warm at the sight. Impossible not to feel your lips curl into a smile seeing it. And impossible for a total stranger not to notice the young woman’s absolute joy and to make conversation with her.
The elderly woman could not resist. “He’s beautiful,” she said, reaching to touch the infant’s soft cheek. “How old?”
It was the question people always asked first, but Rita didn’t mind.
“Five months this week. Happiest five months of my life, even if I haven’t slept a wink.”
The old woman laughed. “I can see your happiness just looking at you. You’re positively radiant! Is he your first?”
That was the second question people asked.
“Yes. My husband and I are hoping for maybe three. And this little guy is just as smart as a whip too. Knows his own name when he hears it. Don’t you, Stevie? Don’t you, honey doll?”
Little Stevie certainly did. He offered a wide and bold grin for all the world to see. The old woman laughed at the sight.
“Oh, he’s a smart one, all right, this one!”
Rita’s pride showed. “We’re talking surgeon material here. My husband and I already have begun putting the money aside for his medical school. Would you like to hold the future Dr. Lester?”
Now the grey haired woman offered a wide grin. “Oh, may I? It’s been so long. I’m a grandmother myself, you know. But the children have grown to that difficult age, and they don’t like any family member touching or kissing them. You know how teenagers are.”
“I only know how I was. But I suppose I’ll be learning soon enough.” Bundling Stevie in her arms, Rita wiped some gunk from his mouth and handed the infant to the woman. “Funny, I used to think trying to make it into the Olympics swimming competition was the most important thing in my life. Now the only thing that matters in my world is this little guy.”
The old woman held the small blue bundle close to her. Instinctively, she began gently to rock him while she hummed some tuneless song. “You have to appreciate every second while they’re this young. It’s over so quickly, you know. Sooner than anyone realizes. Holding her own baby has got to be the most wonderful pleasure life has to offer a woman, wouldn’t you say?”
“No argument there.”
“Life itself seems so brief. I suppose you have to get to my age to realize it. Of course, by then it’s too late. You come into this world with no hair and no teeth while pissing your pants, and that’s pretty much the way you go out of it.”
Rita nodded politely. “I suppose so.”
The two women passed a pleasant few minutes before Rita mentioned it was time for Stevie’s afternoon feeding. With obvious reluctance the old woman handed the infant back to its mother, her flickering smile suggesting a trace of sadness.
“Thank you…I don’t know your name.”
“It’s Rita. Rita Lester.” She offered her hand.
“Well, thank you, Rita. I’m Emily O’Brien. I’m sure I’ll be seeing the two of you in the park some time again.” Still smiling, Emily went back to her bench.
Rita swiveled Stevie’s carriage and disappeared down the path.
A middle-aged son pushed his elderly mother’s wheelchair along the park’s promenade. In the wheelchair, a very old woman sat silently, her slight smile suggesting she enjoyed the warmth of the April sun.
Another woman, seeming as old but clearly in better health, approached them.
“That’s very admirable of you, young man. A son should always be devoted to his mother. How old is she?”
The man managed a smile. “Ninety-one last November. She was an incredible woman, my mother. You can’t tell by seeing her now, but she used to be a fantastic swimmer. Olympic material, I’m told. Rita Daniels, that was her maiden name. She was in the papers all the time. But she married my father and gave it up to raise my two sisters and me. Isn’t that right, Mom?”
The elderly woman in the chair seemed to recognize her son’s voice. She smiled again, made a gurgling sound.
“Odd, isn’t it?” the son added. “A woman pushes her infant’s baby carriage through the park on a beautiful day like today and fifty years later, her son returns the favor.”
“Except that’s not a baby carriage you’re pushing, is it?”
“Hardly. Life is funny, isn’t it. We enter this world with no hair or teeth and that’s pretty much the way we leave it.”
“You can add to that how babies and we old ’uns also occasionally pee our pants.”
They both laughed. The woman in the wheelchair smiled too. That brought smiles all around.
“You can see she knows we’re talking about her,” the woman said. “Seems there’s a lot happening inside your mother that time hasn’t taken from her.”
“Yes, the dementia hasn’t progressed so far that she’s lost all her awareness. Mom still recognizes me when I come to visit, although the nurses at the home say she keeps pretty quiet the rest of the time. She’s become very withdrawn since my father died. Sad, because she was the most sociable woman I’ve ever known. She must have had a hundred close friends. They’re all gone now.”
“Age can be cruel like that. You watch so many people leave you. I doubt a single day goes by that I don’t think about the loved ones I miss.”
The man smiled, offered the woman his hand. “I’m Steven. Dr. Steven Lester.”
She took his hand in hers. He was taken aback by its coldness.
“Hello, Steven. I’m Emily O’Brien.”
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