The two women and four kids came in ten minutes before the mercantile closed.
The women looked so young to me, although they were probably in their early 30s and were obviously the mothers of the children.
The first woman who came in had her hair pulled back into a tight bun. She wore those hiking tights so popular with athletic (and not so athletic) women these days. Her scoop-neck t-shirt dipped just enough in the back to show the tattoo of a lotus at the base of her neck. Her son was maybe nine, her daughter around six.
The second woman had loose dark hair and glasses with square black frames. Her shorts were quite short, and she wore white almost-to-her-knee socks with her boots. She had a sarong or a large scarf or an East Indian tapestry draped over her shoulders with a side hanging over each breast. At first I thought she was topless under the sarong/scarf/tapestry, but when she turned, I saw her black bikini top. She had two boys with her, one about five, the other probably ten.
They were on a souvenir buying expedition. The children were turned loose in the store while the women looked at magnets and t-shirts and Christmas tree ornaments.
I have twenty bucks! the littlest boy exclaimed, to which the boy who wasn’t his brother said, Who cares? (It soon became apparent to me that this boy had just about had it with the younger kid.)
The little boy’s mom said, That’s not cool to the older boy, but the grin on her face told me she thought it was all pretty funny.
It turned out that while the little boy was clutching a $20 bill, he had to share it with his brother. Each of the four kids had a $10 souvenir budget.
They circled the store eliminating possibilities. The walking sticks were too expensive. The t-shirts weren’t enticing (and probably too expensive anyway), and none of the kids were interested in stuffed animals.
The boy who didn’t care about the little kid’s twenty bucks was the first to find his souvenir: a wooden whistle carved to look like a bear. He tried to get the other kids interested in the whistles too, but he was the only taker.
(How do you know it’s a whistle? his little sister asked.
Let her blow it, his mom said.
No! said the boy with concern on his face. She can’t blow it! We haven’t paid for it!)
The older of the brothers tried to convince the little one to pool their money and buy something they could share. He showed the little boy a breakable “I Love California” bank, and the little boy about had a fit. He screamed his negative feeling about the bank until—finally—his mother told him to chill out. I was beginning to think the little boy controlled the whole family.
Then the older of the two brothers saw the pocket knives.
We keep the pocket knives in the glass display case. People can’t touch them unless a worker hands them over.
How much are the pocket knives? the bigger boy asked.
I told him they were $6.95 plus tax.
Can I see one? he asked.
I didn’t really want to hand one over to the kid and have to take responsibility for whatever might happen, so I said, We’ll have to see if it’s ok with your grown up. The boy rolled his eyes behind his Buddy Holly glasses.
Bikini Mom was across the store. Grown up? I called to her. Oh, grownup?
She looked at me, blinking, as if I were an intruder in her secret dream world.
Can he look at a pocket knife? I asked her.
She said he could. She didn’t even walk over to supervise.
I pulled out the cardboard knife display and set it on the counter. The boy grabbed a knife and examined it. His little brother watched with great interest.
I’ll get this, the big boy declared.
I want one too! I want one too! the little brother hollered.
You have to get your parent’s permission, I told them. No way would I have given that angry little brother a knife. I’m not sure the big boy was really ready for one either.
The older boy rolled his eyes at me again. Can I get a pocket knife? he called out to his mother.
I want one too! I want one too! the little brother hollered some more.
Bikini Mom said sure, they could get knives. She hadn’t even come over to take a look.
I turned to her and said, You know the box says they’re razor sharp, right? Of course, she didn’t know anything about the knives because she hadn’t come close enough to gather any information. However at the words “razor sharp,” she did walk over.
The little brother was still hollering, I want one too! I want one too!
The boy from the other family was very interested in the knives. He also wanted one. Bun Mom told him he was NOT getting a knife. He said he’d had a knife before…And it broke! his mother said, and you’re not getting one! Her tone of voice left no room for argument, and the kid dropped the subject.
Meanwhile, Bikini Mom and her oldest boy examined the knife. They couldn’t figure out how to close it. I showed them. Both moms started talking about safety and being very careful and this is not a toy. The little bother kept hollering about how he wanted one too, and I thought the big boy might roll his eyes right out of his head.
Bun Mom told her friend this knife thing might not be a good idea. Maybe she should consult with the boys’ father, Bun Mom said.
Emboldened by her friend’s caution, Bikini Mom told her boys they could not have knives. I was relieved and put the knives back in the display case.
The older boy followed his mother around the store, hassling her.
She must have said she didn’t want the little boy to have a knife, because I heard the big boy say, Then just tell him no! I could tell he was completely exasperated. I suspect the little boy was hardly ever told no.
The big boy finally wore his mother down, and she told him to go ask his father. Presumably, the father was on a campsite nearby because the boy wasn’t gone three minutes.
He said yes, the boy told his mom.
Even for your little brother? Bikini Mom asked.
Yep, the boy said. I wondered if he’d used the words “razor sharp” when he described the knives to his father.
The boys used their $20 to each get a knife, plus a box of candy and a pack of cheap plastic finger lights. The big boy immediately opened his knife.
How do you close this again? Bikini Mom asked.
I told her The Man would show her, and he did, but neither the mother nor son could do it.
If he can’t even close the knife, he shouldn’t have it, The Man whispered to me.
Can I carve with this? the older boy asked.
Absolutely NOT! The Man told him. He told the boy the knife wasn’t made for carving. It would be dangerous to carve with that knife, he said. The Man tried to scare some sense into the moms by telling them about times he’s sliced into his own hand while carving and how now he wears a special protective glove.
You can only use this when you’re with your father, Bikini Mom told her boys.
Someone’s going to bleed tonight, I whispered to The Man.
He just shook his head and told me quietly that no one under 13 should have a knife.