I love Washington, D.C.
It's a city of monuments, sculpture, public gardens, and, of course, government, which, even as sucky as it's been for, well, for ever, I adore. In my most important and memorable dreams, I wander through these monuments and past these marble statues of Prosperity, Truth, Commerce, and Justice.
I came to D.C. as a far-too-full-of-myself (some things never change!) five-year-old, stepping off the train from Chicago at Union Station with my mom, my brother and sister, and one tiny turtle (the kind they used to sell in drug stores). I was born in the college town of Boulder, Colorado, where I learned my mad love for mountains, but I'd never seen anything -- anything -- that spoke to my deep soul the way that this city of marble and high ideals spoke to me. We moved because my dad took a job writing speeches here, but he had a meeting in Cincinnati the week that we got off the train. My mother, may the Goddess guard her, took three little kids (and a turtle) to the Hotel Continental just around the corner from the office where my dad was going to be working. For a week, we lived in that hotel and, every day, Mom would take all three kids (but not the turtle) out for a long walk in the city and through one of Washington's many, many museums. We'd walk until we were tired, at which point, my brother, Joe, who was, I swear to the Goddess all of four years old, would (after the first day) just hail a cab.
When Son was young, I was a young, single mother on a school-teacher's salary. We spent, I warrant, more time wandering the (free!) museums of Washington, D.C. than most other mothers and sons. Son adored the Air & Space Museum
, but, Goddess knows, we covered every inch in every museum up and down the Mall, more than once. Do you ever wish that you could remember "the last" time that something happened? I don't remember "the last" time that I took Son to the museums in D.C.; I'm sure at the time it didn't at all seem like "the last" time. But eventually, he got into high school sports, found girlfriends, got busy studying for SATs, and there was, sadly, a last time. It may have been a trip to see the Boating Party by Renoir at the Phillips
, but I can't be sure. I do have a vague memory of lunch afterwards at Teaism
This morning, G/Son and I got up early, had strawberries and orange juice, and headed down to the Mall. Nonna miscalculated how early you need to get down there to get a parking space. We were a little early.
At two-and-a-quarter, G/Son's started asking one of the first questions for which I ever got in trouble: What's going to happen? It's an attempt, as my mother knew and resented, to figure out how to be in control, to prepare, to master the situation. I have a different approach than did my mother. I provide the kind of detailed information that I'd have appreciated at two: We're going to get in Nonna's car; you can have your water bottle while we're driving. We're going to drive downtown, past the beautiful Potomac River that Nonna loves, we'll go to the dinosaur museum
, see dinosaur bones, and then we'll get back in Nonna's car, drive to your house, and tell Mommy and Daddy about it.
We got down a bit early, so we walked around the Mall for a while, waiting for the dinosaur museum to open. We fed a muffin to the v brave pigeons of D.C. We chased a v bold D.C. squirrel who lives out of the trash cans around the Mall refreshment stand. We looked at the Enid Haupt
garden and tried to decide if the fountain inside the Sackler Gallery
was a reflection of the outside fountain or another one, inside. We decided that we preferred a fruit bar to popcorn from the little red cart. We watched bees and butterflies in the outside butterfly garden near the dinosaur museum.
And, there, although I'd forgotten it for decades, it was. The Carousel on the Mall
. People who hate Washington, D.C. just don't realize how many lovely hidden treasures it has. And one of them is the carousel just outside the Smithsonian Castle on the Mall. I used to spring, and it was "springing" back then, for a ride for Son on that carousel, with its old-fashioned animals and carousel music and bright lights. It was still closed when G/Son spotted it from across the Mall and said, "Nonna, is that a merry-go-round?" We went over to investigate and, there it was, the blue horse with a blue saddle of G/Son's dreams. He told me, "Nonna, I've got to ride that blue horse." I've lived too long to disregard a message from the deep psyche/the Gods like that one.
We waited, and waited, and waited for the nice man to show up and start selling tickets. We had a fruit bar and a bottle of water and we decided that the beautiful blue horse was named Herman. We waited some more. When Nonna suggested that we walk around and come back in a bit, we decided that was a bad idea. When other little kids began to get in line behind us at the ticket stand, we agreed: She doesn't want to ride Herman; she must want to ride the zebra. He doesn't want to ride Herman, he must want to ride the black horse with the lightning strikes on his saddle. She doesn't want to ride Herman; she wants to ride the blue dragon.
We got (hell, yes there are benefits to always needing to be in control) the first two tickets, were the first two on the carousel, got to Herman before anyone else. G/Son was pretty accurate about which horses the other kids wanted to ride; well, he's the witch's grandson. (What's going to happen? What does your intuition tell you?)
And then, we were doing it. Life caught us up in the moment and all the waiting was over. The music was playing, the lights were on, Herman went up and down, G/Son sat in the saddle, absolutely equally divided between the mad joy of Pan and the odd terror of going too fast and having too much fun. Nonna (a late-coming advocate of Pan's side of things) stood near Herman's head and said, "You're doing great. You're having a good time. This is fun! Whee! Go, Herman!" G/Son alternated between calling out, "Go Herman," and yelling "Hold on tight, everybody!"
Too soon, but not a minute too soon, the carousel slowed, and it was over. We gave Herman a hug and a pat on the neck, and said, "Good job, Herman. Thanks!" We got off the carousel and got into our stroller. G/Son told the man operating the carousel, "Thanks for letting me ride the blue horse on your merry-go-round!" and the man just cracked up.
It could be my last time on the carousel. I could die on the way to work tomorrow, driving past the lovely Potomac River, But it might not be. When we left, we called out, "Bye, Herman! See you the next time we come downtown!" I just want to remember every time so that, if that time is the last time, I'll still be able to recollect it, re-live it in memory, enjoy it over and over.
Who knew that I'd get this amazing blessing of being a Nonna? Once, in my wicked youth . . . .
Nah, I can't pretend that it's anything but lagniappe. And it is lagniappe, lagniappe, lagniappe. May it be so for you.