One morning when my youngest child Danny was not yet two years old, he and I drove the older children to school and started out on the rounds of Thursday errands: grocery shopping, cleaners, post office and hardware store. It was fall and the sun shone through the half-clothed trees and made lace cutouts on the grass.
I drove by the lake to get one last glimpse of the sailboats. A parade of ducks waddled across the road. "Look, Danny, look at the ducks."
He clapped his hands, "Duck, duck." He grinned at me asking with his eyes if he had said it right.
On impulse, I pulled the car to the side of the road. "Come on, let's see those ducks for ourselves." I took his hand and together we brought up the rear of the duck procession like giant majorettes at a pygmy parade. Across the road, down the slope, and onto the beach we followed them until the water's edge stopped us short.
"Duck," Danny said, sure of his new word now. Together we walked in the autumn sun. Sometimes Danny ran ahead and sometimes he touched base by taking my hand for a minute. The morning was passing and yet neither one of us wanted to turn back.
I walked on and on savoring the moment, knowing it would pass and never come again. Who could care about the winter coats at the cleaners on such a beautiful day? As for the grocery shopping, it would get done eventually, I decided to skip the hardware store and go to the post office tomorrow.
When a breeze came up it was time to go back. We had come a long way. Sometimes Danny danced beside me; part of the way I carried him. He repeated with continuous excitement, "Duck, duck."
When we got back to the car, the morning was gone, but unlike so many others that slipped into oblivion, I knew that morning would take its place in a special niche in my memory.
Sixteen years later, I thought of that distant morning as Dan, now a tall, lanky college freshman, met me at the airport with a hug. "Hi, Mom," he said, smiling down at me.
I had come 2000 miles to visit him at school. He started the motor of his '64 Chevy and we began a new kind of walk together. "That building is where I have my English class. Next to it is the computer lab. My math class is on the third floor.
As we drove I wondered where the years had gone since that long ago walk to see the ducks.
The answer was that we'd spent them in the trivia of life; thousands of meals, endless nights of homework, hundreds of rides to church on Sunday, crises that came and went, chilling waits at track meets.
Dan's voice interrupted my thoughts. "Mom, see that street over there. I was riding my bike home one night and saw the glint of a knife between two men and I knew a man was being mugged. My heart was pounding but I stopped my bike and said, 'Hey, what are you doing?' The man being mugged ran and the man with the knife stood there. I could hardly believe what I was saying but I told him, 'Don't do that again.' Then I peddled my bike out of there.''
This time it was I who wanted to touch base and grab his hand but I refrained. We rode on. "I work in that building telephoning taxpayers to see how they are going to vote in the next election. I asked for the night off since you were going to be in town."
We turned into a thoroughfare. "Here's where I do my laundry. It takes along time to get enough dirty clothes for one load. There's the Baskin Robbins but I've never had enough money to go there. See that garage with a room on top? That's where I live. Come on, I'll show you.''
Before I knew it our evening together was over. Although it been an ordinary night, simply sharing Dan's world, I thought once more of the precious time when I'd put off my carefully ordered routine so Danny and I could walk behind the ducks. I felt a tender mix of gratitude and wistfulness, for now, it was my son who'd rearranged his schedule and taken me by the hand.