Throughout My Childhood

April 21, 2008
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Throughout my childhood, I traveled to Europe to visit family every few years or so, and when I was eight I went with my brother and grandmother to Paris. By then my French wasn’t terrific and though I understood the language decently, I was very shy about speaking it. Add to that the amazing speed at which Parisians talk, and their language barrier was rather daunting.

One day my grandmother took my brother and me to a large playground in the Jardin du Louxembourg. The place was filled with all manner of amusement: ropes that swung along a curving zip-line, giant discs big enough to sit on that spun around at high speeds, and of course see-saws, once ubiquitous in America but now, with parents so law suit happy, a rare thing.

After a bit I wandered apart from my brother and headed for a vacant teeter-totter. I’d been solitarily propelling myself up and down for a bit, when a small French girl, probably about four or five years old, approached, with her mother a few paces behind watching but not interfering with her daughter’s progress. Feeling the familiar unrest at the prospect of having to speak French on the spur of the moment, I kept my mouth shut. Without a word the little girl climbed onto the unoccupied end of the see-saw and smiled at me. Still wordless, I resumed a gentle up-and-down, never kicking off completely so that I could control the board and not jar the foreign youngster.
Up and down, up and down…the noise and activity of the other children faded in importance and the girl and I continued our silent exchange. Perhaps she thought I was odd, for my face must have belied some of the wonder I felt. It was amazing to me what a connection there was between us, how we could have such an interaction, across cultures, and age groups, without ever uttering a word.

I continued my enthralled manipulation of the see-saw for a while. Then when she was on a low turn, the little French girl said plainly “je descendre,” and with a smile she climbed off and wandered away, still with her mother in tow. I sat on the see-saw, contemplating what had just happened, the significance of that apparently simple experience, and watched her go.





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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

jaye said...
Feb. 13, 2009 at 3:51 am
That's a fantastic story. Connections between people can bridge huge gaps if we let them, but sadly, only children do, lots of the time...We should all try harder.
 
Skelpies5 said...
Aug. 16, 2008 at 10:43 pm
Wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your article.
 
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