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Riding in the Back Seat

Recently, our family took a trip to Ennis, Texas for the annual bluebonnet festival. My son, Matthew, drove. Samantha, my three-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter was secure in her car seat behind her Dad. My wife, Judy, sat behind Melissa. And I sat in the back row next to Natalie, my nine-year-old granddaughter.

Natalie came prepared for the hour-and-a-half trip with plenty of white paper to draw upon. Shortly after heading out, she had her pen out and set to drawing. I accidentally, on purpose, bumped her arm.

"Tex!" she said, extending the "x" sound.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," I said. "The car must have hit a bump." She went back to drawing. And I bumped her arm again, disrupting her drawing.

"You did that on purpose," she said. "Oh, no, I would never do that," I relied. "It must be a case of bumpitis."

"What's bumpitis," she asked.

"That's when a grandfather sits next to his granddaughter in the back of a car and has an irresistible urge to disrupt her drawing." So she gave me drawing paper and a pen and suggested that I draw my own picture. I started to when she bumped my arm.

"Bumpitis," she said.

"Daddy," I said to my son, "Natalie is causing trouble back here."

"Oh no, I'm not," she cried. "Tex is the one causing trouble."

"Natalie is the troublemaker," I claimed.

"No, I'm not," she countered.

Matthew shouted back, "You two stop it. Don't make me stop the car and come back there!"

Things were calm for a while.

Natalie then took out the bubble gum she had been chewing, wrapped it in some paper, and then offered it to me saying it was a special treat just for me. (She is a trickster, just so you know.)

I took the paper-wrapped gum, and pretended to put it in my mouth, chew it and then swallow it. Her eyes got big. "You weren't supposed to really eat that," she said.

"But you gave it to me," I told her. "Daddy," I yelled to my son, "Is there a hospital nearby? I may have gumitis," I said. "I may need a gumectomy."

"What's gumitis?" Natalie asked.

"That's when bubble gum gets stuck in the stomach and then the lungs expand to make a huge bubble," I explained.

"No, you're fooling me," she said, and we both laughed. (She is hard to fool.)

"Well, that may be," I told her, "but I am a champion bubble blower. In fact, I hold the world record for bubble bum bubbles." So I took a fresh piece of bubble gum, and proceeded to blow a bubble. "How did you do that," she asked. "Years of practice," I replied. "But I can show you."

So for the next fifteen minutes we blew bubble gum bubbles and laughed at our efforts. She got pretty good at it. "You have potential," I told her. And took some satisfaction in a teachable moment.

"How did you pretend to swallow the paper gum?" she asked. "Ah," I said, "slight-of-hand."

"What's slight-of-hand?" (Another teachable moment).

"That's when you pretend to do one thing but actually do another because you distract someone," I said. I showed her in slow motion how I had palmed the paper-wrapped gum in my hand and then proceed to swipe it across my mouth. She was dazzled...and rightly so. "I am also a world-class slight-of-hand artist," I told her. So for the next fifteen minutes, we practiced the art of slight-of-hand and laughed. She got pretty good at that too. (She's a fast learner). "You could be a famous magician," I pointed out, "or a pickpocket." I added, "Choose wisely, grasshopper."

We took part in other games of skill and strategy, like tic-tac-toe (in which I tried to fill two spaces at once but she wouldn't let me) and rock-paper-scissors (in which I delayed my sign until I saw hers so that I could win, and again she would not let me). She was on to me. She's an alert competitor. And we laughed.

We got to Ennis and the festival, and we spent time in a spectacular field of bluebonnets taking pictures. And we headed home.

On the way back, Natalie and I eyed each other suspiciously in the back seat, each wondering who might make the next move.

She rolled up a piece of her drawing paper, and peered through one end which set off a "What is it?" game--binoculars, telescope, magic wand, straw, pointer, mustache, hair pin, and so on--until utter confusion reigned.

"Ah," I said, "this is actually a paper sword. My name is Tex. You are a troublemaker. Prepare to sword fight. En Garde." And we did. Paper swords sliced through the air, and were crushed on legs and arms. Even Samantha began to fence as she turned around in her car seat with her paper sword and waved it in the air. I sword fought with her as well. Nonna (that's what our granddaughters call their grandmother) then stepped in and said, "Okay, that's enough for a while."

"Nonna is right," I said. "Let's take a time out." Then after a few moments, I started the sword fighting all over again. And we all laughed.

"Daddy," I said, "Natalie and Samatha are troublemakers."

"Oh no, we're not," said Natalie, "Tex is the troublemaker."

Matthew called back, "Don't make me stop the car and come there." And so it went until we got back home.

When Matthew dropped us off at our place, everyone got out of the car and gave hugs all around.

"I had fun with you today, Natalie," I told her.

"I had fun too," she said.

Then they got back in the car, Nonna and I gave the special Smilor salute, used upon any arrival and departure--with the tops of our hands up against our chins we waved our fingers. Natalie and Samatha saluted back.

Just being a grandfather. Maybe making a memory.

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