A few weeks ago I was in a fabric store with the Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas. My mission was to select the fabric for my holiday shirts. While I was poring over the seasonal offerings, and surprising OS with my sparkly decisions, there was a woman in the same section with her kid installed in her shopping cart.
That kid never stopped talking, and I’d guess that 90% of all utterances were questions. Mom tried to answer most of them, but deflected many.
I was in a time warp, looking at me and my mother, possibly on the shopping trip where I picked out the double-breasted suit pattern, the busy blue/purple pinstripe fabric for the jacket, and the fuchsia double-knit for the trousers of my Easter outfit when I was eight years old, give or take.
OSoMR&HBI has seen pictures of that outfit, so sparkly reindeer shirts should not have surprised her quite so much, my normal attire notwithstanding. You gotta sparkle for the holidays.
Anyway, while I was poking through the fabric options, the kid was offering up a never-ending stream of questions. Based on some of the questions, I got the feeling that we were on similar missions. While I can’t specifically remember any of his fabric-related questions, they were in the vein of “Why is it snowing on the dog?” Questions that really don’t have an answer.
Then for a while he asked simple mathematical questions, which his mother answered easily. “What is five plus fifteen?” “What is five plus twenty?”
Then he dropped the bomb. “What number do you get when you add up all the numbers?”
Getting no swift answer from his mother, the kid grappled with the question himself for a little while, naming a couple of very large numbers, quieter now as he realized that those were numbers too, and part of all the numbers, sensing rather than knowing that he was touching on a deeper sort of mathematics. He had asked a question it took mankind almost our entire history so far to even know how to ask, let alone how to answer.
I did not go over and accost mother and son and congratulate the kid on asking a massively awesome question, and tell the frazzled mom that her child was destined to grow up to be like me. She’ll find out soon enough, for better or for worse.
But I got to climb into a time machine that day, and see myself and my patient mother from the point of view of an aging man who still likes to sparkle now and then. It made me irrationally happy to know that in fabric stores, the impossible questions were still being asked.