We bought ourselves a camper trailer. It's a Traveleer circa 1952. No, it's not an Airstream. It's what's lovingly referred to as the "canned ham" style, thus named because it resembles, well, a canned ham. It's not in perfect condition; it's evident it has sixty years on it, in the form of peeling maple veneer walls, a floor you can see through and a musty scent. But it is a thing of quality. It has wood cabinets, a boothed dinette, an adorable, teensy, 50's stove, an old steel refrigerator that actually works, and lots of potential.
My handy guy has turned his mechanical attention to our little blue and white trailer. He's on a break from work and over the past week he has replaced the failing floor with sturdy sheets of blond maple. He has installed tail-lights on the back and hooked them successfully to the minivan. He's even rigged the van with a hefty hitch. All this work, of course, has required materials. So Ben has been spending an inordinate amount of time at Home Depot.
We all have our Home Depot stories. I've had a salesperson (and I use that term loosely) literally run away down the paint aisle when it was clear I had a question. The benefit of the place is that it is giant; it has lots of products. The downfall is it's impenetrability. Where might the washers be found to fix my dripping faucet? Okay, I found a hundred square feet of washers. Which one might be the washer to fit my Kohler Coralais single-handle pull-out spray kitchen faucet? One could ponder for hours.
One day last week, Ben ventured into Home Depot (known by my kids as "The Big Store") with Mihiretu in tow. Let it be said that Mihiretu in a store is a catastrophe waiting to happen. That boy is meant to be outside. Confine him indoors on an adult errand and you (and all innocent bystanders) will leave deaf and loony.
Ben was waiting in the returns line. It was a rainy Tuesday and Home Depot was (shocking!) understaffed. Five soggy men, including my own, stood silently, miserably, in cue. Mihiretu was hopping a giant roll of outdoor carpet. He'd jump, shrieking happily, and crash noisily on the other side.
Marin County, it's been said many times, is liberal. Home Depot, even the Marin branch, is not. Here you have the contractors, the DIYers, the manly men. What they made of a lunatic Ethiopian boy with a white guy in clogs is anyone's guess.
Ben, certain his grumpy compatriots would not save his spot, shout-whispered for Mihiretu to stop. Mihiretu, after one last terrific leap, wandered towards a display of indoor plants. Ben, distracted momentarily as he moved forward in line, looked up and found no boy. Soon, however, a mop of curls rose from among the plant containers. Merry, almond eyes peered at him from a jungle of palms. Suddenly, the jungle was moving, Mihiretu with it. As the plants slid into the checkout area, Ben saw that they were on a cart, a cart that was piloted by his son. More shout-whispers from Ben and the cart was abandoned diagonally, halfway between aisle and checkout stand, and Mihiretu, reluctantly, was at Ben's side, just as his transaction was finally completed. Ben scooped him up, to much earsplitting protest.
"Wanna shoulder-ride, Mihiretu?" Ben asked, in a last ditch effort to contain him. Every kid in our family loves shoulder-rides from Dad. Generally, when we're all together, I have a no-shoulder-ride rule, because a battle invariably ensues.
Mihiretu, happily perched on Ben's shoulders, small brown fingers attempting to pull Ben's very short hair, shrieks of joy echoing through the warehouse, was content. And so, working fast, Ben trundled his cart through the store, in search of Liquid Nails (you heard right, Liquid Nails, ladies and gentlemen). As Ben stood before the wall of glue, attempting to discern which particular kind of Liquid Nails fit the bill, Mihiretu quieted. Soon, as Ben held two bottles of glue in his hands, weighing their merits, he felt Mihiretu's chin rest on his head, Mihiretu's fingers loosen from his scalp and a small palm ooze slowly over his eye. Ben cocked his head to get a look at his passenger. His eyes were half-open, he listed to one side.
"You tired, buddy?" Ben asked.
Mihiretu's mouth pulled into a vague half-smile, which, when combined with the droopy eyes and the off-kilter posture, made him appear to be the littlest drunk in Marin.
Ben gently laid Mihiretu in the giant, as yet empty shopping cart. He placed Mihiretu's folded sweatshirt beneath his brown curls and spread his own over him like a blanket. Mihiretu's eyes closed completely and, head cocked askew on his neck, his mouth hung open in slumber.
Grateful for the silence, tucking the Liquid Nails in under Mihiretu's sneakered feet, Ben rolled the cart towards floor mats. Soon, the cart parked, he was halfway down the aisle, peacefully puzzling over his choices in the shriek-less quiet. A brawny middle-aged man, beer-bellied, wearing scuffed steel-toed boots and a Carhart jacket fraying at the cuffs, rounded the corner from the other direction. Ben glanced his way just in time to see him stop short in front of the cart, scratching his belly uncertainly. For all intents and purposes, this looked like a comatose - or worse - black child placed in the cart for purchase, with no discernible parent present. Now on which aisle can you find those?
Ben said later that as strange as the scene might have appeared to that guy, for Ben it was actually a good moment. Mihiretu was serenely asleep. Ben was happily perusing the Big Store. All was well. Did it look weird? Did Ben care? We Caprons are past the point of worrying how we appear to the outside world. Sometimes, most times, we are a tornado of seeming chaos, but sometimes, maybe even most times, we're doing okay. We're doing our very best to put one foot in front of the other. If we have strange looking shoes, so be it. And, hey, we've got a trailer. We're taking this circus on the road.