In 1995, Bill Cosby hosted a show on CBS called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” In it, Cosby would simply ask children questions and carry on a conversation. He would masterfully revolve the conversation around whatever the young child might say.
Cosby: “Of your parents, who is the boss of the family?”
Chlid: “My mom.”
The audience audibly groans and Cosby gives the small boy a blank look.
Child: “Because my mom bought most of the land.”
Any parent knows this happens when you have conversations with children. They can say things that adults most of the time can’t get away with. Their innocence and honesty at an early age is endearing, sometimes embarrassing, and oftentimes hilarious–no matter how hard we try to hold our laughter.
My brother has a little girl named Dorothy (I’m giving you the name she sometimes likes to be called after Dorothy on The Wizard of Oz instead of her real name). She has a bubbly, ebullient personality that brings joy to anyone who comes into her presence. She is very smart (my brother says it is because she has half of my brain) and has a HUGE imagination.
She can turn any room and situation into one of her favorite movies: either the aforementioned Wizard of Oz or Frozen. She can act out all the scenes from the movies and recruit others to fill other roles. She knows all the lines, all the songs and can show genuine emotion during any recitation. She is a phenomenal little girl and I love her so much.
However . . .
There was this one time I thought she was going to get us killed. Briefly. Because of something she said in a restaurant.
My brother and I live in the same North Carolina town outside of Charlotte. When our parents come to visit us from out-of-state, one of our traditions is going out to eat as a family. Occasionally, our sister from nearby Greenville, SC travels up I-85 to come join us.
We let our parents pick the place they want to eat, and they’ve developed a few favorites over the years. The place we went this time was a local, family owned barbecue place called Troutman’s in Concord. Many of the patrons at this place were either large families. older couples or retired farmers and vets dining by themselves.
It was one of the latter whom I believed wanted to kill us.
As we had a large group, we were seated in the middle of the dining area at a big table. We had placed our orders and were catching up on current news and gossip with our parents while waiting for our food to be served. It sometimes takes a long while between the time an order is placed and the time the food actually comes out at this place. We knew that beforehand. It’s worth it because A) my dad enjoys the food, and B) we get time to catch up with each other.
Dorothy was probably three-years-old at the time and full of questions, comments and one-liners. Like most children, anytime they have to be in public and can not do what they want to do, they get restless. She asked repeatedly if we could go outside and play while we waited and only played briefly with my brother’s I-Phone before losing interest.
Not finding something in her immediate vicinity to keep her occupied, she got quiet and started to look around.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a people watcher. I love being at a busy mall food court and just watching the interesting waves of humanity that surrounds me. I believe young Dorothy is a lot like me in this way.
There were some older couples sitting along the wall, one small family and one man dining by himself. It was this singular man who caught and held her attention. Because Dorothy and I seem to share this “people watching” gene, he grabbed mine as well. The others at our table went about their conversations, unaware of the situation unfolding around them.
He was hunched over his table facing in our direction, cradling a steaming cup of coffee. He looked like he was probably in his sixties, had a red bandana over his head and wisps of gray hair fluttering around the edges of it. He didn’t have a beard, but you could tell he had not shaved in days. He wore a camouflaged military jacket that had sleeves going just past his elbows exposing his forearms. On the exposed skin were looking tattoos of snakes, skulls and other scary imagery. His most notable feature was a black patch over his right eye.
As he stared blankly at the table in front of him, eyes never leaving the steam rising from the bland coffee, his lips flared in an eternal snarl, I wondered what events in his life had brought him here. His face was a map of deep-set wrinkles, leaving me to believe he had had a hard life and had seen many bad things. His hard expression simmered with hate, loathing and everything in between.
Everything about this man said “Leave Me Alone.”
Dorothy did not sense the abhorrence of mankind coming from this solitary man that I did. Her eyes studied him for several minutes as she sat on her knees in the chair, facing in his direction. She wasn’t bothering anyone. No one paid her any attention. She was just looking around. The old man had not looked up from his coffee. He was seemingly unaware of her interest.
Then it happened.
She sat up straighter in her chair. She was ready to reveal the thought that had formed in her young, innocent mind.
She grabbed her daddy’s–my brother’s–sleeve to get his attention.
He turned to face her. “What is it, sweetie?”
She gave him the most beatific smile, pointed at the old man, and said in an innocuous, happy voice loud enough for everyone in a five-mile radius to hear, “Look daddy! It’s a pirate!”
My whole world went silent. All my focus was on the old man. She was right. He did resemble a pirate. I pictured him pulling out a knife and murdering everyone in my family. For the first time since I started watching him, he reacted.
He took a sidelong glance at Dorothy. His head did not move. Just his eyes. He stared at her for a hard second. It felt like an infinite amount of time to me. Then, he did the thing I least expected (because I fully expected to die): his eyes moved back to his coffee mug, took a sip, grimaced and went on as before.
He made no sudden moves. Did not look back in our direction for the rest of our meal.
Soon afterwards, our food arrived. We ate. We conversed. We left.
Dorothy thought nothing of it again as her chicken strips kept her occupied for the rest of our meal. She just smiled as she always does.
Kids say the darndest things.