Surely every family has its own shorthand words and phrases.
To this day, for example, we all use the phrase “hot but good” to describe any food short of frozen.
Our little boy was offered a piping hot appetizer by his grandmother, Jim’s mother, an extremely accomplished chef.
We could practically hear the blistering of our son’s tender palate as he tasted it, gulping, his eyes brimming with tears from the flavor-obliterating heat.
“How is it?” asked his grandmother expectantly.
Our son, born without the capacity even to risk hurting anyone’s feelings–and especially not those of the grandmother who had cooked a treat for him–yelped out, “Hot . . .” He quickly steadied himself and added, “but good.”
The word “back” carries with all the adults in our extended families indelible images of the same son as a toddler. “Back” means an assurance that one is soon to return, a declaration that those left behind should not worry.
The lone word has packed within it the earnest, enormous bright cornflower blue eyes of our two-year-old, who would leave a room brimming with boring grownup conversation and bitter adult beverages to do something more entertaining–but not before pausing to reassure us and do his best to avert any stress we might experience from his absence.
He would perch at the door sill and wave to us all with a big smile, then lift a right index finger to his right and then gently downward, sketching a number “7” in the air.
It was a flourish we would see repeated through the years, as our son’s hands were poised aloft with the mallets with which he would strike the first marimba notes to Festive Overture or start another majestic flood of music.
As a toddler the motion was unpracticed. Not a businesslike sharp jab, but a slowly floating diagonal movement, downward and sweeping to the left, like a conductor warming up Lilliputian woodwinds.
The index-finger wave would be directed at Jim and me and everyone else in the room, and accompanied by our son’s somehow stretching out the word “back” into two syllables.
So “back,” to us, does not mean simply “back,” or even “I’ll be right back”; it means “I’ll be back soon; I know you’ll miss me, but I have places to go, and you have my permission to carry on.”
(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon