When I was a young girl, probably nine or ten years old, my parents took my brother and I to a fair. I don’t remember which one, just that like so many there was an unending row of artisan tents to explore. People selling crafts and art in little 10×10′ tents stuffed full of their handmade wares. There was one in particular that interested me. It was a man selling wooden carvings, and in particular wooden hummingbirds. I was fascinated by their wings, tiny little wooden feathers, each one nestled into the last and each seeming to just barely be attached to the bird’s body. The effect was a spray of wooden wings that seemed to flutter before my eyes.
The artist in charge of the tent, an older gentlemen, noticed my interest in the birds, and showed me the one he was working on. He had carved the entire thing out of a single chunk of wood, including the wings. They were carved into one block, sliced, and then each slice of wing was pulled back and rested in the notch of the one before. All that was left for this bird was for the wings to be separated. To my amazement and disbelief, he handed me the incomplete bird and showed me how to pull the first feather.
I stood there for probably 45 minutes, holding my breath and separating every one of those delicate wooden feathers on that bird. When I was finished, I proudly showed my work to the old man. He praised it as a job well done, and then handed it back to me and told me that it was mine to keep. Elated, I carried my little wooden bird around for the entire rest of the fair before taking it home to hang it proudly on my bedside lamp.
Seventeen years later, I still remember that afternoon at the fair. That man allowed me into his world for a moment and showed me how to make his magic come to life with my own young hands. Seventeen years later, I still have that little wooden hummingbird. It’s traveled with me through many moves and many states, always reminding me of that day.
Yesterday, Kyle and I were at the horse track , as we do so often on our days off. Spending the warm afternoon sitting in the sun, drinking beer, and betting on the races, it’s all about relaxing. Kyle examines the racing program and strategizing our next wager, and I lounge in my chair with a friendship bracelet in progress clipped off to the arm of my chair. (Look down at my last post, I’ll explain down there.) My fingers lazily weave and flip the threads around each other, pausing frequently to wander away to my beer. I like having something for them to do, and few people seem to notice my little projects.
Except yesterday. Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of two small pink-clad girls standing at my elbow. I looked up and smiled at them and said hi. The older one, mustering what looked like all of her courage, spit out, “How are you doing that?” and pointed to my bracelet. “It’s a lot of little knots over and over,” I explained. “Oh,” she said. “That’s really neat.” I looked down at my nearly finished bracelet and thought of the plentiful stockpile I had at home in my Swag Bag. “If you come back in five minutes you can have it,” I told her.
Her face immediately broke into a smile. “Okay!” she said, and ran back to her parents’ picnic table, likely to tell them her good news. I quickly finished the bracelet off in a braid, and then called her back. She looked immensely pleased as I tied it on her wrist, and admired it from multiple angles. Then she looked up. “Can my little sister have one, too?” she asked, pointing to the tiny blonde who’d been standing silently beside her. “I don’t have another one made,” I explained, “but I’ll work on a new one as fast as I can.” This agreed with her, and she nodded.
And then they stood there. Now, these bracelets are easy to make, and I can usually knock one out in an hour or two, but it wasn’t the type of thing that I thought they’d want to hang around for. “It’s going to take me a while,” I told them, giving them permission to leave and go back to their table, but neither moved. When it became clear that they had no intention of leaving I turned to the older girl and asked her if she’d like to try it. With help she complete a stitch and handed it back to me. Then the little one spoke up for the first time, announcing that she’d like to try. She, too, managed to complete a knot with help, but when she was finished she didn’t hand the threads back. She looked at me expectantly, as if to say, “Okay, what’s next.”
And that’s how we went on for probably half an hour. The older girl talking nonstop, telling me about her dog at home and her beaded bracelets that she makes and how Mommy and Daddy “broke up” and she doesn’t get to see her favorite uncle much anymore because he’s in jail, and the little girl methodically weaving the threads. The little one couldn’t have been more than four years old but her focus on the knots were unwavering, and she managed to finish two rows that looked near as perfect as mine.
The three of us might have been able to go on this way, talking and braiding, all afternoon. The girls certainly seemed content, and though I’m not totally comfortable talking to kids (they scare the shit out of me) their excitement was infectious. But then Grandma came up and told them that it was time to go. I looked up at her, expecting to see that half-amused-half-grateful look that adults take on when another adult has gone out of their way to show kindness to their kid, but I saw nothing of the kind in her eyes. I tried to tell her that they hadn’t been a problem, that I’d enjoyed their company, but all I read in her face was, “I just don’t give a shit.” The older girl seemed disappointed, but she thanked me for the bracelet and bounded back to her parents.
But the little girl. She. Was. Pissed. As her grandmother lead her away her face was contorted into the hardness of someone who’s given of themselves and watched someone else receive the fruit of their labors. As I watched her walk away, my heart ached in a way that it usually only does for a stray cat or an empty beer fridge. “Damnit, I wish I could have finished that bracelet for her!” I said to Kyle. “You did what you could,” he said, and turned back to his racing program. He was right, of course, but I couldn’t shake that little girl’s disappointment. “I just wish I had another bracelet.”
And suddenly I realized that I did: the one I wore on my own wrist.
“I’m going to give her mine,” I said, standing up and struggling with the knot at my wrist. Freeing it, I strode over to the little girl standing in the middle of her family, knelt down next to her, and took her tiny arm to my knee. The bracelet made of pinks and greens was a bit worn from weeks at work and caching on my arm, but the way that her face exploded in a beautiful grin as I tied it on her wrist turned it into a thing of perfection in her eyes. Finishing the knot, I patted her wrist and walked away.
“Well, I feel better,” I said, sliding back into my chair. “I think she liked it.” Kyle peered over my shoulder to the little girl’s family. “Liked it?” he said. “She’s dancing around with her arm in the air. I think she liked it.”
There’s a more than excellent chance that the little bracelet I tied to her wrist was lost in a matter of days. A well-meaning parent placed it on the dresser where it was unintentionally swept away in a corner, or the swiftly-moving interests of a four-year old moved on to other pretty things. It brought her one moment of joy, and that was enough. But there’s a small chance still that it will stay with her the way that the wooden hummingbird has stayed with me. That years later, it will hold precious the memory of an afternoon when someone opened up their world to her and showed her how to make their magic come to life in her own young hands.