Toys were everywhere, to infinity and beyond – a cluttered kaleidescope of cars, puzzles, and balls – a goofy plastic rainbow of great times. I thought back to when they first sat under our Christmas tree, waiting to be unwrapped by my frenetic, giddy toddlers, then waiting a bit longer until I had enough coffee and a sharp pair of scissors to clip the endless number of wires and ties that restrained them in their packaging, like so much fun had to be physically tied down or it would break loose and run amok.
And years later here they were, staring back at me as if to say, “We did the run-amok thing - now what?” My boys had outgrown them, but they still weren’t ready to throw them out. Over the years I would quietly move them from their bedrooms to the garage, hoping to someday, somehow move them out completely. (The toys, not the boys. Although if you step on enough Lego blocks, the second option does cross your mind.) The goal was to make the toys disappear without inciting a rebellion by the small people who would eventually choose my retirement home.
Would I be remembered as the mean mom who, by the light of a pale, cold moon, cackled with glee as she tossed beloved toys into the trash bin? Or perhaps as the creepy neighborhood toy-hoarding biddy, who kept toys stacked head-high throughout the house, with only a greasy, narrow path from the back door to the microwave so she could heat up soup? Not much of a cheerful outcome either way.
One of the bulkiest toys was a battery-operated pickup truck, a Mattel PowerWheels built to carry two kids at a time. Years ago the boys would drive it down the block, lurching and whirring, to get the mail. Once in a while they’d take it off-road, one driving and the other riding “shotgun” while attempting to lasso the dog. Mud would build up in its itty bitty wheel wells. Under its menacing plastic tire treads, several sprinkler heads became roadkill.
The Silverado, as we called it, was still in great shape. Too good a shape to be sitting around inside on such a lovely summer day.
Later that day I stopped by a local horse ranch that a friend of mine, Kristin, managed. Sundancer Ranch was a delightfully quirky place, full of horses, chickens, dogs, quail, rabbits, squirrels, ducks, even turkeys, parrots, goats, mules, and one lone ornery cow. Most people drove in and quickly left, spooked by the precipitous cliff off one side of the driveway, or the gang of tumbleweeds poised like so many dusty, rotound rednecks chillin' on the other side. But to a farm girl like me, it was heaven on earth. I figured the cliff and weeds scared others away, kept them from seeing the magnificent heart of this place, like a country camouflage that hid it from the outside world.
A few of us were standing near the barn talking about horses when Kristin's granddaughter walked over. Sophie was almost four years old, a barefoot barn angel in a muddy sundress, with long brunette waves of hair, and round brown eyes. I had grown up the same way, a bit of a wildflower, a free-range child. I even had the same long tresses and brown saucer eyes. I remember preferring the company of horses and dogs to that of people. Not much had changed.
As we talked, Sophie wanderly shyly in front of me, holding up a wild flower she had picked. “Thank you,” I said, taking the bloom. She smiled a bit and walked away.
“What’s with the flower, Mom?” my son asked when I got home. But he quickly became distracted by something else, and plopped the flower down right where he picked up his next thought - on the Silverado.
“That’s it!” I exclaimed. “Why not Sophie?” My son stared at me, weighing whether it was worth asking me to explain what I was talking about, or if it doing so might inspire me to seek his assistance in whatever wacky plan I was concocting.
The boys and I loaded the Silverado in the back of our truck and brought it over to the ranch. I knocked politely on the door of the trailer, asking if “Miss Sophie” was available. Her mom, Kelsey, informed us that she would be out in a moment after she “fixed her hair.”
Soon Sophie glided daintily down the three steps of the trailer, glittery hairclips perched on her head, her brown eyes blinking in the bright sunlight.
“Sophie,” I said, “Thanks for giving me that beautiful flower. We heard you are a hard worker, helping your mom and grandma feed all the animals. We figured you could use a good truck to haul the hay. Would you mind giving this truck a good home?”
Sophie looked at the Silverado, then back at me, then rubbed her eyes. She looked at the Silverado again. She had been napping, and wasn’t quite sure she had woken up.
“Go on, honey, give it a try,” her mom coaxed. Sophie walked around the little truck twice, lightly touching its sleek, grey sides, then carefully tucked herself into the driver’s seat. After carefull securing her seatbelt, straightening her sundress, and adjusting her hair, she held her mother’s arm in one hand and the steering wheel in the other, and hit the gas. The Silverado lurched forward. Sophie stopped, broke into a big smile, and cackled with glee. She hit the gas again, with the same response – lurch, stop, and cackle. She got out to clear some rocks away from her Silverado. Then it was back to lurch, stop, and cackle.
As Sophie fussed over a parking spot for her new ride, Kelsey lowered her voice. “She sees her dad once, maybe twice a year, tops. Last Christmas, he came to visit and we all went to the toy store. Sophie was looking at the PowerWheels, and her dad told her to pick out one and he’d buy it for her. She was so excited! She picked one out and he said, ‘No, sorry.’”
Kelsey shook her head. “She cried for months. I never shared that story with anybody. Then you show up out of nowhere.” She looked up. I think her eyes were misty, but I couldn’t see real well at the moment myself. “Things happen for a reason.”