At the IHOP in Winchester one night, we were paying for our dinner when the young woman behind the cash register noticed that my young son was looking at something behind her.
“Oh, are you looking at these?” she said, pointing to a display of Bendaroos (those little wax sticks you can bend into a variety of shapes) that was stuck to the glass partition behind her. My son looked at her, but didn’t say anything.
“Well, no,” my wife said. “Actually, he’s looking at the map there.” She pointed to the world map silhouette that was stenciled to the glass next to the Bendaroos.
“Oh, yeah?” the woman said. “You like this?”
“What continent is that?” My wife asked our son as she pointed to a section on the map, none of which were marked or labeled.
“Africa!” he said cheerfully. Our daughter—his big sister—who was standing next to him, smiled thoughtfully.
“Whoa!” the woman said, her eyes widening in amazement.
My wife moved her finger to the right, “What’s this country?”
“India!” he said right away, as my wife, our daughter, and I looked on, amused.
“Wow!” the woman exclaimed. “How old is he?”
“He’s five,” my wife said.
“Just five?” Then she added, “I don’t know what any of these are.” Which meant that my son could have been giving the wrong answers, and she still would have been impressed. But he wasn’t giving the wrong answers.
“What’s that?” my wife then asked our son, pointing to the lower right corner of the map.
“Australia!” he answered.
“Oh my god!” the woman said, and her mouth stayed open for what must have been half a minute after she’d said it.
“He likes all sorts of animals,” my wife explained. “So he likes to know where they come from.”
“OK,” the woman said. Again, her mouth stayed open after she spoke.
In the meantime, I’d signed the receipt for our dinner, and we were ready to go.
“Well, have a good night,” the woman said.
We all said Good Night back to her.
As we headed out, I heard the woman say, “Holy crap!” right before the door swung shut behind us. My wife, my daughter, my son, and I walked toward our car—each of us, I’m pretty sure, glancing up at the sky before we got in. This was back in the fall, and there were long winter nights ahead of us. In preparation for them, it seemed like a good idea to remind ourselves of our place in the universe. Then we got in our car, ready to take whatever steps were necessary to get there.
Photograph by Jose Padua