The little blond boy looked to be five years old. Perhaps a big four. He was dressed in a little boy’s winter parka that bulked him up to look as big around as he was tall.
He stood on the walkway fronting a series of abutting strip mall stores. He was waiting beside a brimming grocery cart as his mother unlocked the doors to her minivan.
He looked more intrigued by a nearby pair of large, blue USPS mailboxes. He looked around, the way children that age do, when all the world is over their heads. He looked up at the monster mailboxes. He looked up at the strange neon glyphs in the store’s windows that—unbeknownst to him—spelled out the business’s name.
He looked up at the icicles dripping from the building’s eaves. He looked up at the crevices of blue splitting the thick white clouds overhead. He looked up at the metal basket filled with plastic bags packed with cans and jars and fruits and vegetables. He looked just in time to spot the cart start rolling toward the parking lot.
The little fellow visibly started. It was if the wheels in his head were spinning overtime. He made a decision! He ran after the cart and tried to grab it.
The cart rolled undeterred. It bounced against the minivan’s bumper.
“Kevin!” the mother shrieked. “What are you doing? Never do that again! It’s too big for you!”
I saw this as I was walking out to my car to get a tool I needed. I knew it was none of my business.
No one wants unsolicited comments in the midst of her parenting. Particularly from someone in a hardhat and grimy work clothes.
But I couldn’t help myself. I really felt for the little guy, getting chastised for something he hadn’t done.
“He didn’t touch it, ma’am. It started rolling by itself.”
She didn’t say a word to me. But she asked her son, ‘Were you trying to stop it?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said as I turned the corner. “That’s exactly what happened.”
She didn’t say anything else. I would have liked to have heard an apology. I suppose that’s too much to ask. But screaming at a little boy to never do something again … that’s the kind of seed that burrows into the unconscious mind and sprouts later as an adult neurosis.
But it was none of my business.
I went back to my job.
There must have been something in the air today. It seemed like a day for interacting with cute little boys.
One of the tasks I performed today involved running metallic-sheathed cable for a lighting control circuit from a junction box in above of the cash registers to another box on a wall some forty feet away. It required me to maneuver a scissor lift between the check-out aisles and thread the cable along a wind brace near the ceiling.
This is renovation so there is already a functioning store throwing obstacles in my way. The work was not difficult, just time consuming. And, of course, I had to take care where I was driving the lift. Other workers and grocery employees and customers were always nearby.
I’ve told people before that what I do is sometimes like playing with a giant Erector set. It is, of course, the kind of work little boys think they might like to grow up to do. There have been times on nearly every construction job I have ever worked where my crew attracted an audience of young children.
You never see little children standing around watching some guy in an office.
I remember going to work with my Dad, when he was stationed at Ft. Monroe. Dad worked for TRADOC, which is Pentagon-speak for “Training and Doctrine”. He wrote. Essentially he was updating and revising various Army training manuals. It wasn’t very exciting, for a young boy. He gave me papers and pencils and I entertained myself. Mostly doodling.
I didn’t stand around and watch him type.
As I was finishing the task, this morning, I saw another little boy, walking with his mother and sister. He was wide-eyed watching me. I smiled at him.
“This is a great job!” I told him. “Beats working at an office!”