We were returning from an errand that looked like a drug deal. My brother had left earlier to put his sailboat on a trailer and drive to a lake south of us, where he was already late to meet his wife and some of her family. He'd forgotten a black bag that included his glasses and contact stuff, and we'd jumped into my sister's rental car to drive to a gas station near the highway, hoping to catch him as he came from the launch site with his sailboat so we could hand the bag off to him in the parking lot. Urban Sophisticate Sister was driving, I was in the front seat with a cell phone arranging the hand-off, and my daughter had come along for a nugget of entertainment. All went as planned. My brother rolled down his window as he pulled into the parking lot, I tossed the bag into his car, and he spend off down the highway.
Then we turned to more pressing issues. It was almost lunch time, and we were out of pickles.
Since we were still in fugitive mode, Urban Sophisticate pulled into the back parking lot of the grocery store. "I'll leave the keys in the ignition," she said. I supposed she was anticipating the need for a fast get-away. As she ducked into the shadowy doorway, I felt like I was witnessing a bank heist.
I knew that my sister's Big City Like No Other pace would slow down as soon as she hit the local people at the cash register, none of whom find anything urgent about buying pickles. So, leaving my daughter to listen to music in the car, I walked down to the store dock.
Yes, the grocery store has a dock. It's a sturdy dock, too, high and stable, and long enough for a dozen boats. Just a single boat was there that day, an open motorboat filled with small children and two women. On the other side of the creek, cattails and purple loosestrife were gathered in the shade of a rock cliff, but the boat was in the full noon-time sun.
I could see that the kids were getting restless. The little boy was climbing over the seats and tugging at the straps of his life jacket. The youngest toddler was tugging on the younger woman's shirt and saying something incoherent in a high-pitched whine. The little girl was leaning so far out of the boat that the older woman kept grabbing the back of her life jacket to keep her in.
"Just a few more minutes," the younger woman said to the kids. She sounded like she was trying to convince herself more than them.
I sat down on the hot boards of the dock, letting my feet dangle towards the water. I could remember being a little kid myself, waiting in a hot boat for adults to do whatever it is that adults are always doing. I remember the smell of those orange life jackets we always wore, and the queasy feeling of a boat bobbing when it's anchored or tied to a dock. The kids' voices drifted lazily over the still water in the creek, over the weeds that were floating near the surface.
Just then, I heard the pounding of sneakers on dock planks. The kids looked up, and squealed with excitement. I turned to see a young man in a baseball cap running down the dock, a brown grocery bag in each arm.
"Daddy! Daddy!" the kids yelled.
He grinned at them and hefted the bags higher.
"And I bought treats too!" he called excitedly.
The kids began jumping up and down now, with big smiles on their faces, crowding near the side of the boat and bumping each other with their bulky life jackets. The younger woman was laughing and holding the toddler up so she could see over the edge of the dock. The older woman was already untying the boat and shifting into the driver's seat.
The man handed the bags down and jumped into the boat. The little boy fell against him, laughing. The little girl hugged his leg, and the younger woman leaned over to look into the bags. The older woman smiled at them all. Then she turned the wheel, maneuvered the boat away from the dock, and they sped off down the creek.