Most of those two days, were spent on the road, but our conversations covered just as much territory as did the vehicle we were in, perhaps, more.
It has been a long while since I have had such a special opportunity, my children are grown, their world view is tinged with the sharp edge of cynicism.
This little girl, too, shows signs of cynicism's arrival, but there is still a freshness in views.
She has experienced much in her short little life. The suicide death of her mother, a father that is more absent than not, (even when home, he is absent mentally), the violence of a mentally ill older sister. She has seen sides of our world that no child should witness, been exposed to too much of the adult world, most especially the seedier side when in the company of her oldest sister. The majority of her days are filled with turmoil and upheaval, and aspects of her personality reflect it. There are times when in her presence I sense a deep sadness, feelings of loss, and a strong need to be listened to.
But, she is a 10 year old too. A bright, beautiful, refreshing, artful, funny, articulate, brave 10.
As I mentioned above, we discussed many topics over the miles we traveled together. About our shared family members mostly. I had to smile when she told me Miss Daughter is her hero. It also filled me with hope, for in this most dysfunctional of families, Miss Daughter is the most real of the teens populating it. She is honest and pure in her dealings with the younger children.
So many times during our hours together, she would ask a question or make a statement that awed, amazed, amused, or bemused me.
As we passed through Gary, Indiana, I told her it was the hometown of Michael Jackson. She looked at me with wide excited eyes, whipped out her camera and started snapping pictures.(of what I am not sure, since there was nothing much to see, but she is 10 after all).
Then she said, "Is that when he was black?"
I laughed, and replied, "Why, yes, it was."
"I think he was cuter when he was black."
"I feel sorry for the children here."
"He is a child molester."
"So it's been said, but I think they're OK, he was a child when he lived here too."
"Well, they need to be careful when he visits. I really like his Thriller song though."
"It was a good one."
As we moved out of Gary, and back up onto the interstate, our conversation turned to her favorite music, again this 10 year old surprised me. She mentioned many names of today's musicians, most I did not recognize, granted my memory for names is not at its best, they ranged from Fergie to Madonna, she even sang me her favorite song, Girlfriend by Avril Lavigne, (she was quite impressive in her imitation), yet she didn't stop there, she also mentioned The Doors, and The Rolling Stones.
The conversation flowed on to other topics, each punctuated by her own unique viewpoint.
Each time we crossed a bridge or overpass, she would comment, "This bridge could collapse." (a current event that affected our children more than many of us realize I think). Each time I would reply..."Nope, not today, you are with me." (OK, dumb, but it satisfied her, after all, I am her Aunt Sunny. ~smile~)
She helped me tremendously as we navigated the streets of Chicago searching for her older sister's condominium. Watching for street signs, delighting in telling me, we had passed the same street corner three times already, expressing pique that the many taxi drivers seem to enjoy honking their horns at this country girl's driving in the big city. Eventually we arrived at her sister's home, and she was ready for her adventures with her older sister to begin.
* * * * * * *
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon. I picked Miss Niece up, and as she was telling me of the many things she and her sister had done and seen, she expressed sadness that she had had no time to purchase a few souvenirs. So, as we were driving along Lake Shore Drive I noticed the sign for Navy Pier, and asked if she would like to stop. Of course she did!
We easily found parking, with only about 6 or 7 blocks to walk. We walked along, my attention caught by the art galleries we were passing by, when I noticed she seemed a bit distant. Walking beside me, but more as if she were trudging along, no more bounce to her step. As I slowed to observe her, I noticed the people her eyes were following, she was watching the families. The mothers and fathers with their children. I remembered on Friday, she had mentioned her mother to me several times, and I had told her some stories of her. I do not know if it was the right thing to do or not, but Miss Niece resembles me in many ways, in fact, when comparing photographs of myself at age two to those of her at the same age, there is little difference. So, I said, "You know, most people probably think I am your mother, we look so much alike." She made no reply, but her hand slipped into mine.
We decided to take a detour through a few of the galleries we were passing. She again amazed me. She was impressed by the work we saw, expressing her likes and dislikes, taking the time to eye them all, to absorb them, not just walking quickly from piece to piece. When suddenly she exclaimed quite delightedly, "It's pointillism! I've done pointillism in school! It's really really hard!" "This one is really good!"
We meandered out of the gallery and set off once again for the Pier. Once there, she then became all little girl, shopping kiosk after kiosk for the perfect souvenirs. Once that was accomplished she was suffering so from exhaustion she was in need to indulge her sweet tooth. Oh, did she indulge!
She was getting tired, and it was well past time for us to be on the road home, but she could not resist playing in the fountain, and getting soaking wet, before we started our walk back to the Jeep.
As we were tiredly making our way back up the street, another little gem flew from her mouth.
"I love Chicago, all the people are so different!"
"I imagine in the downtown portion of your city, they are just as varied."
"Nope, they're all black." Was her matter of fact reply.
We then hit the road for our long drive home, or attempted to.
We ended up crawling along the Dan Ryan Express Way for almost three hours. Again, our conversations covered many topics, and at times we were both quite bored. I eventually remembered several books of poetry stuck in the back seat, and pulled one out by Norbert Krapf entitled, Bittersweet Along the Expressway, Poems of Long Island...quite appropo...yes?
After reading a few, she composed her own poem about our little sojourn.
sitting here on the expressway
a long way from home
nothing to do
except moan moan moan
traffic is hard
other cars moving
but we just stay
nothing to do
except cry cry today
as shadows deepen,
sitting here for hours
people chatting lane to lane
cars moving back and forth
which way is
south east west or north
sitting her on the express way
a long long long long long
trust me... a long way from home!
nothing to do
except moan moan moan