Everywhere, there are reminders of the passage of time: the sight of the setting sun at the end of a mild day on which the spring buds stretched their arms and reached for the sky, just six days after our area saw heavy snowfall; the excitement with which my little brother spoke of the major concentration he’s just chosen on the eve of his senior year in college, though I am still often shocked to stand beside him and realize once again that he has grown taller than I; the high school classmate who walked past me at SouthPark Mall tonight – with several children in tow; Taylor’s hair – which, as it grows, marks the time since it was shaved in an operating room far away from home, in the Pacific Northwest.
I had a few minutes alone while I waited for John in the mall earlier this evening, so I set my bags down and found a spot on the side of the fountain, pulling my knees up under my chin to watch the water rise and fall. The moment immediately brought back memories of a tradition long ago, one I shared with my dad when I was still an only child. Mom frequently had volunteer meetings on weeknights, so after eating grilled cheese sandwiches or Burger King for dinner, Dad and I would head to the Baskin Robbins in SouthPark to get ice cream cones (mint chocolate chip in a sugar cone for me) and throw pennies into the fountain until Dad’s pockets were empty. This tradition has stuck with me long past the extinction of that particular Baskin Robbins; in fact, the on-again, off-again novel I started writing in college has a whole scene – a whole chapter, really – in which the book’s main character and her mother, who has late-stage brain cancer, share a picnic by a similar fountain in a mall in Vermont.
Tonight, watching the fountain seemed to make time stand still. But when I lifted my eyes and invited the rest of my surroundings back into my consciousness, I was reminded of how much the mall of my childhood has changed. Gone are Sears and Hecht’s and the old movie theater, supplanted by Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus and Tiffany & Co. Once the place where I could take my high school soccer teammates out for Sbarro’s pizza after practice – and still in our shin guards – it now touts itself as “the Carolinas’ premier shopping destination,” and I suspect that our grass and sweat-stained shin guards would get dirty looks.
While SouthPark’s been busy remaking itself, my little sister, who was born during the days of those beloved after-practice pizza outings, is growing up. Once happy with Gymboree, then The Children’s Place, she now prefers to get her clothes from Justice and, during a short phase that seems to have ended, Abercrombie. My mom recently told me a story of how she had T and her girlfriends in the car one afternoon and offered to put on Radio Disney, only to get cries of protest and requests to play Kiss 95.1 (a decidedly more “grown-up” selection, though according to the station’s website, Disney creation Taylor Swift did make the High 5 today). And though she simply giggles and grins, then turns her head when you ask for details, it seems that T and her friends have officially discovered boys this year. One night recently while Dad was out of town, John and I took Mom and T out to dinner at McAlister’s. About halfway through the meal, T started talking about one of the boys in her class. Mom told her to show us what she’d been carrying around in her pocket, to which T responded by producing a carefully folded scrap of paper with a phone number and the words “Scott’s Home Phone.” She’d carried it around faithfully all day. That was almost a month ago, and in the time since, rarely have I seen her more animated than she was right then.
Though the changes in T have made for many happy memories like that night at McAlister’s, they, too, signal the passage of time – a scary prospect for a family like ours. I would do anything to be able to press ‘pause’ and take the gift of additional time to ensure that T won’t ever really have to stop growing up. But I can’t do that. The sun has already set on this day. Tomorrow is another day and another opportunity to not only press ‘pause’ – which could only be a temporary solution after all – but to rewrite the entire script. I will be at MexiCafé tomorrow afternoon for Tip-off for Taylor as part of the latest attempt to do just that. And tomorrow evening, after everyone has gone home, one team has lost and the other has won, I will no doubt once again find myself willing a blank screen to be filled with words that give meaning – and belief – to our journey. And just for good measure, you’d better believe I tossed a penny into that fountain.