The wafting aroma of boardwalk fries had caught the attention of 13-year-old Leo, the Stupendous Human Disposal for All Things Edible and Sub-Edible.
“Hey, Dad, can you buy us some fries?”
“Us” consisted of Leo and his eight brothers and sisters. “Some” would mean three large cardboard bucketfuls, totaling in cost about a third of a day’s wages.
“Yeah, Dad! Look, the sign says -” Dominic, seven years old and proud of his reading ability, squinted at the painted wooden board swinging above the snack stand “- they’re ‘famous.’ Please, Dad?”
“Famously expensive, they mean,” I whispered to my husband. “Imagine! Six dollars for a carton of fries!”
I turned to the children. “I’m sorry, kids.” I said aloud. “Daddy can’t spend that kind of money on…”
A giggle from Helen interrupted my words. Suspicious, I looked over my shoulder to find Daddy opening his wallet. He grinned at me.
“Aw, Mom, this is a vacation. Lighten up!” he said.
Humph. The only thing bound to lighten up was his wallet, I thought, as my husband Mike plunked down eighteen dollars for some greasy potato strips.
“Look, Dad, they have vinegar to sprinkle on the fries!”
Vincent, the child with the cockeyed taste buds who likes to eat lemon wedges and drink dill pickle juice, was bouncing with glee. “Mmm! Good and sour!”
“Yeah, well….not quite as sour as some other things I know,” remarked Clare, glancing at me. I pretended not to notice.
“Vinegar on French fries?” puzzled four-year-old Helen, with a pretty wrinkle of her nose. “Eeewww, gross! I’m having regular fries. Can I have the ketchup?”
While the kids busied themselves at the condiment bar, my husband sauntered up to me.
“Want some, Mom?” he asked, proffering a cardboard bucket. Having first made sure that it wasn’t coated with – eeewww, gross! – vinegar, I grudgingly accepted a fry.
Suddenly a squeal of delight rose from the kids.
“Mom! Dad! The seagulls like the fries, too!”
They sure did. Gulls hoping for a fumbled fry or two had gathered on the boards near the children. Helen, who had been nibbling daintily on a fry, impulsively tossed them its remains. Suddenly the birds were everywhere, winging up from the boards and swooping down from the sky to catch the fries which the children had begun to fling into the air with abandon. I watched as the fries disappeared into the birds’ gullets. They looked like little dollar signs.
“Watch this! I’m gonna throw this fry to that bird way up there! No, wait, that wasn’t it. Watch THIS! Shucks, it hit the telephone pole. Okay, now, look at this! Aaawww, he missed it! Dumb bird. Hey, Dad, can I have a few more fries?”
I checked my wallet to see if I could cover the fare for the train ride back to our apartment. Then I sat on a bench and waited. I closed my eyes and listened to the soothing sounds of the ocean waves washing the shore, washing, washing…
“Oh, I’m sorry! Here, I have a napkin.”
I opened my eyes to see Rose standing anxiously beside a woman who was dabbing at her forehead with a paper napkin.
“I was throwing the fries to the birds. I didn’t mean to hit you with one.”
“It’s all right.” The woman smiled reassuringly as she handed the napkin back to Rose. “I like French fries,” she added with a chuckle, before resuming her stroll down the boardwalk.
“That lady was hit by a flying French fry,” mused Helen, as the woman walked away. She reflected a moment, and then declared, “It was huh-LAYR-ee-us.”
Rose was eager to change the subject.
“Look, all the gulls on the boardwalk are facing in the same direction. Why do they do that?”
“Because they’re watching for somebody who has better aim than you do to come and feed them French fries,” teased Ben.
Rose took a playful swipe at Ben, then chased after him as he sprinted away. The rest of the group followed, scattering a clique of gulls. The kids certainly were having fun, I thought. But was it eighteen dollars’ worth of fun?
Vincent walked up, licking vinegar from his fingers and smelling like a tossed salad.
“Those French fries were great.”
He wrapped his arms around Mike.
“This whole vacation is the best. Thanks, Dad.” Vincent dropped a tart kiss on Mike’s shirt, then dashed off to join the others.
Well, okay. It was eighteen dollars’ worth of fun.
Mike sat down beside me.
“Didn’t get many fries, huh? Would you like me to buy you some?”
“Lots of salt, and just a drizzle of ketchup, right?” He winked at me.” And positively no vinegar.”
I glanced over at the children, who had tired of their raucous play. They were standing serenely, like a flock of gulls, all of them looking out at the ocean. They had shared their snack with the birds, and were now quietly sharing their contentment over a vacation that was simply “the best.”
“Sure,” I replied, “sure, I’ll take some. I like French fries.”
Copyright 2011 Celeste Behe