My grandson, Solomon, turned four recently, and I flew out to San Francisco for his birthday. My daughter had everything planned – the food, games, favors for the kids, even a “balloon man” to entertain by blowing up balloons and sculpting them into animals and cartoon characters. And the location was all set, a park near her house.
Soon after I arrived, I asked what I could do to help. “I called the park department to reserve the picnic table near the park’s entrance,” my daughter told me, “ but they don’t take reservations. It’s first come, first served. Would you be willing to go over early and stake out the table?”
“I’ll be glad to do that,” I said. “What time is the party?”
“One o’clock,” she said. “I was thinking I could drop you off around 10:00.”
Three hours was more than I had expected, but getting that table was obviously important, and I had no other plans. “No problem, I’ll take the Sunday paper,” I said.
She dropped me off at exactly 10:00 A.M. We spread out a tablecloth and a few other things. My daughter went home to make frosting for the coconut cupcakes she had baked the night before. I went straight to the sports page.
Fifteen minutes later, a family arrived, carrying baskets and balloons. They looked over at me and my now-reserved table, shrugged, and headed over to the table near the swings and slides. I sent my daughter a text: “Just in the nick of time.”
By noon I had read most of the newspaper, and I expected my daughter to show up at any minute. But before she did, a family arrived – parents, small daughter with eyes like saucers, grandparents, and a few other relatives. The father walked over to me and said, in a friendly way, “We have this table reserved.”
“I’m sorry,” I replied. “My daughter called and the city told her you can’t reserve tables, it’s first-come first-served. I got here more than two hours ago.”
“I have a letter from the city,” he said.
“I came all the way from Boston to reserve this table,” I told him.
He nodded towards the older couple. “Those are my wife’s parents. They came from India.”
That stopped me, but only for a few seconds. “What part of India?” I asked.
Just then my daughter arrived, while I wondered where we were going to put twenty-two adults, twelve kids, and the balloon man. I didn’t even think of what my grandson’s namesake, King Solomon, would have proposed – splitting the table in two. I just looked at my daughter and said, “I think we’re in trouble.”
The man then produced the letter from the city, and, sure enough, he did have the table reserved. By then two things were clear. First, the park department had misinformed my daughter. And, second, these were really nice people. “How old is your daughter?” I asked.
“She’s two, today” said the father. And then, pointing to the grandparents, “She’s their first grandchild.”
According to an old English maxim, possession is nine points of the law, but I don’t think that applied to our situation. I was ready to pack up and move, though I didn’t know where.
Just then the father looked across the field and saw that the birthday group at the other table were packing up. “Look,” he said, “the problem is solved. That table is available, and we’ll be glad to use it.” We protested, not too strenuously, but he insisted.
Later, my daughter left for a few minutes and came back with the father and his melt-your-heart birthday girl. They both had coconut cupcakes, and when they went back to her party she was carrying her own Elmo, the furry Muppet from Sesame Street, courtesy of the balloon man.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Steve Sears, my Jaffrey neighbor and dear friend. He died, much too young, on October 24, 2013.