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Seriously heaven!

As we got in the car and started another of our monthly dates, my goddaughter, Belle, was quiet. We were on our way to her favorite bookstore in Santa Cruz, CA, but no matter how I tried to get a conversation going, her answers were little more than 'yes' and 'no' and I was starting to feel like this was going to be a long afternoon. My conversational skills with eight year olds are already sadly lacking but those who are close to Belle know that if she does not want to talk, the jaws of life will not pry that mouth open.

"Are you excited for our adventure, Belle?"


"It's a beautiful day for our date, isn't it?"


"Do you have any particular books you want to buy when we get there?"


Yup, it was going to be a long afternoon.

I was also starting to feel hungry, so, if I could just get through Bookshop Santa Cruz, and to the place I had promised to take her for lunch, Bettys Burgers, well, all would be okay. Sort of. I still wanted to guide my goddaughter into a conversational place because, once there, she can be off the charts charming, clever and entertaining. And I loved her this way.

That's when a bit of a miracle started to happen. Once we walked in the bookstore she knew exactly where the children's section was and went right to it. Carefully starting to look at everything eye level, I could feel her beginning to light up when she came across a series of books entitled "Dragon Masters" by Tracey West. She already had read the first two of the series and loved them. Now she had come across more and I could feel her lifting herself into that child's world of dragons, secrets and sheer reading joy.

That's when the second miracle happened. Since the revolving display case where she had found these gems was incomplete and we were frustrated, a boy her age came over and said, "the whole series is over on the shelf right up there" and we had discovered her nirvana. All twenty books were suddenly before us and she could hardly wait to carefully, one by one, take them each down to see what future worlds were inside those pages. Now her silence had turned to focus, utter and complete, and it was one of those parts of Belle that I found most beautiful. I started to remember how happy I was when I, as a boy, discovered a book on the cowboy Kit Carson in the pre-teen section of the Watertown school library. If that library was still there, I'm sure I could walk right to the shelf and the place where I first found it. Or that glorious moment when, with my family starting a week's vacation in Northern Minnesota, we stopped by a hobby store in Duluth. There before me was the biggest section of balsa wood airplane kits I had ever seen and I found my dream of actually holding, building and assembling a WWII P-51 Mustang. Worlds lived inside that box just as Belle was now opening pages to her world of dragons, courage and imagination.

"I think I can afford five or six of these books, Belle, so I'll let you figure out which ones you want." She already had most of them off the shelf but it didn't take long for her to decide that having the next five in the series would be enough for now and she began, meticulously, putting all the remaining ones back. In numerical order. I loved her for that.

"Are you ready for lunch now?" I asked her. Yes, she nodded, "but, first, I want to go to the toy section. I always go there, godpoppa, and, besides, I need to find some things for Olivia and Sophia," her sisters. "Ooh, here's some fruit perfumed pencils, godpoppa, that I know Olivia would like. There's six of them so at lunch I'll decide which three I want Olivia to have and the three I want to keep for myself. Hold these for me, will you?" and she marched off in search of a gift for Sophia.

When we finally got to the cash register, I was balancing an assortment of things and was glad to make it to the counter without dropping them. "Look, here are some bracelets, godpoppa. I bet Olivia and Sophia would like one of these. I would too." "Okay," I said. Well, at least we were getting closer to lunch. How could I have known that there was going to be a 1.5 pound box of Nerds candy, strawberry and grape, in a shop window between here and my hamburger?

"Wow," Belle froze in place, "I've never seen such a big box of Nerds before!" I had no idea what Nerds were but suddenly we were walking into a store called "It's Sugar" and the possibility of lunch starting to fade in the distance. "They're over here," she pointed, "but my mom and dad would never let me get something that big."

"Well, why don't we ask?" I told her in hopes of catching my niece and her husband in a moment that would get me to Bettys Burgers sooner. I took an iPhone photo of the box, texted both her parents and her mother, Emily, texted back "wow, that is a big box, but it would be okay to buy as long as Belle shares it." I asked, she was, and I was starting again to taste that hamburger.

Then I looked around and Belle was gone. She was already in a whole other part of the store. Had she taken a secret injection of sugar without actually eating any? "Here's a box of gummy bears for Vivian, my best friend," she told me, "and look at this pizza. I've never seen a candy pizza that big. This is seriously heaven!"

Seriously heaven? I had never heard it put quite that way before but I had to admit it was. Never had I been surrounded by so much color and candy and I was starting to feel a little tipsy myself. I also was starting to sense the weight of a candy bag which contained everything Belle had decided was bordering on necessity. "Okay, godpoppa, that's good for now. Let's go to lunch, But I definitely want to come back and get some of that candy over there" and she pointed, dramatically, to three huge, overflowing circular displays of loose candy in the middle of the store that I had somehow missed. The kind you buy by the pound! The kind you scoop up with a scooper! Into a bottomless bag! Purple candy, green candy, blue and red. I had no idea what any of these candies were but as we walked out of the store and in the direction of my lunch, I felt a slight sense of victory. I had survived and possibly, just possibly, after lunch she would forget about going back.

Bettys Burgers turned out to be the perfect place and Belle and I both settled down to a child's dream meal of one 16 oz. strawberry shake, divided, a double order of french fries and a grilled cheese sandwich which wasn't on the kid's menu but her mother told me that, "if you ask for it, they will make it for you." I had a chicken burger with everything on it just because 'c' for chicken was the first thing on the adult menu and 'h' for hamburger seemed just too far down the list to bother. I was starving.

"They make the best grilled cheese sandwiches here, godpoppa, although I never eat the crusts" as she proceeded to tear them all off and plop them into my chicken sandwich basket. "What are you doing, Belle?" I asked her. "Well, I don't need them," she answered, teasingly, and then opened her crust free sandwich to show the dripping, melted cheese in the middle. It almost made me wish I had ordered one myself. "Doesn't that cheese look good?" she asked. "I love cheese."

For the rest of lunch, Belle and I talked about life, love (the eight year old version which is about the equivalent of my 'when I was a teen' version) interspersed with her happily looking through the bag of books, toys, bracelets and candies we had purchased and deciding who was going to get what. She took her decisions very seriously which made for a great lunch. She pulled the six perfumed pencils out of their box, for example, and laid them carefully on our table. "Well, these two pencils and these other two pencils are all colored alike, so, I'll give one each to myself and one each to Olivia and this one smells too strong of oranges so I'll keep that for myself. I know Olivia wouldn't like it."

On our way back to the car I thought if we crossed the street before the candy store, well, maybe she would forget those waiting candies she probably still wanted. "Let's cross the street here, Belle. The parking lot is on the other side of the street anyway." "But, godpoppa." she answered, "the candy store is on this side. Maybe you forgot that we were going to stop again on the way back." I acted like I had but, in truth, I was out of my league trying to trick an eight year old whose mind always remembers what you want them to forget. Maybe someday I'll learn that when it comes to kids and candy there is no such thing as forgetfulness.

On the way home things, conversationally, were again quiet though that's not to say that we were without noise. From her booster in the back seat I could hear big chomping sounds. Little by little she was carefully selecting single pieces of candy from the scoop bag she had just opened. "I can hear you eating the candy up here, Belle. Aren't you going to wait until you get home and share them with your sisters?"

"I know," she answered between chomps. "This candy is really good. But I don't think I'll share it. My sisters have got too much candy already and I don't want them to get sick."

Who was I to argue? Besides, she and I had just had another seriously heaven date and that was sweet enough for me.


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