Friday was the local science fair at our nearby junior college. When you go year after year, you start to recognize people from other schools. For the last four years, there has been a certain parent who monopolizes an entire section of the bleachers.
The first year, I was unprepared for the onslaught. I sat in my usual place. After all, I've been taking students there for years. This woman walked in, looked at me, and said, "Oh. I usually sit here against the wall. It's better for my back." I was reading at the time, and glanced up. As in, you talkin' to me? Since I was not sitting against the wall, and even if I had been, there was no reason for me to respond or to move. First come, first served. Festival seating. No reservations.
Loquacious Lil continued. "Our bus was late. I hope they have time to set up. My daughter is the one over there. I usually bring my wheelchair, but I left it in the car today." I was the only other person there. The students were in a long line, filing down the steps to check in their projects and set up on the tables. She had to be talking to me. Being the polite sort, I glanced at her and nodded. But I did not close my book. "Do you have kids here? What school are you from? Is this your first year? My daughter is in middle school. I need to go tell her to fix her board." LL climbed down from her perch and got in line with the students. Her daughter did not look too happy.
I thought about moving, but that might look rude. So I sat my ground. My other sponsoring teacher came in and sat by me. Before I could give her the heads-up, LL returned. Again with the spouting of too much information. My pal uttered a few noncommittal sentences like, "Oh, really? Is that so?" and turned to give me the crazy sign. "That woman is wacko." I nodded. We waited ten or fifteen minutes, barraged by banal chit-chat, then got up. "Let's move over here, where we'll have more room when the kids come up." LL remained with her back against the wall. It was easier to tune her out from a distance.
The second year, LL showed up again. Claimed the wall and section for her own, even though we were there first. I had different sponsoring teachers, this time from Lower Basementia. They caught on quick that we needed to hightail it down the line.
The third year, SSDY. LL nearly trapped me alone, but I saw her coming and moved before she could waddle past the front doors. She had blankets and snacks for the kids during down time. It was party central in that section. Oh, she hollered a greeting to me. I nodded. More talk of the phantom wheelchair. More talk of her daughter. I scooted away to be with my own people as soon as they arrived.
This year, LL brought the wheelchair. I don't know the nature of her different-abledness. I don't even wish to speculate. But here's what I observed. I was down on the main floor when she showed up. And heavens to mergatroid, I had left my bag on the bleachers where she always planted herself. I went up the steps and inconspicuously snagged my bag and kept on walking. Or so I thought.
"Miss! Oh, Miss! You don't have to leave. There's plenty of room for you to sit here."
"Oh, that's all right. I want to be in the middle where I can see everything."
My fellow sponsors arrived. We sat a few minutes. One of them said, "Dang it! There's that crazy lady. I am not in a mood to listen to her all day. Let's move down." LL was in the middle of laying out a blanket where I used to sit after avoiding her. That meant TWO sections she was taking up this year. She wheeled herself there using her feet. Like walking while sitting down. A walkchair. She hollered down to the floor. "I'm putting our blanket here for you!" Her daughter ducked her head. That's how I knew which one was the daughter.
LL sat at the corner by the steps down to the main floor. It's a narrow area anyway. And with her walkchair there, it was single file only. Every person entering the field house, wishing to sit and watch from the bleachers, had to squeeze through that bottleneck between the walkchair and a trash can. Anyone in the bleachers wishing to visit the restrooms also had to thread that needle. LL could have walked her chair five feet and sat at the rail, overlooking the gym floor from the end of the field house. But she didn't.
With nobody to regale with stories of her daughter, LL must have grown bored. She walked herself down to the cafeteria. I don't know if she purchased anything. Perhaps she was seeking companionship. She spent about an hour there before foot-wheeling it back to her territory. After a bit, she climbed up to the third bleacher and leaned against the wall. She left her walkchair in its aisle-blocking position. I noted that she did not go to the steps and use the handrail. She climbed up three bleachers, sure-footed as a mountain goat.
We could hear her talking, but nobody wanted to look. Just in case she was talking to US. A short discussion ended with the idea to hang out behind the bleachers in the sponsor area until lunch. A more secluded locale. It was not for the sole purpose of escaping LL. Some parents had brought their children, and stood in front of us, talking shop with the Lower Basementia sponsors. This is all well and good, but after thirty minutes, everything that needs saying has been said. Besides, our school was not in session that day. Two of us were there for free, giving up a day off, not reaping any benefit through career ladder. Having put in nine hours last week during parent conferences, we saw no reason to be a captive audience for parents who had not come to talk at that opportunity.
Lunch came and went. We returned to the bleachers. A crowd began to form, filled with parents coming to view the projects and awards ceremony. LL walkchaired herself back to the cafeteria area. She returned on the other side of the field house. I saw her lift one leg and hold it out. She pulled herself along with the good leg, and used her hands on the wheels. Then she parked at her corner again to force the flowing tide of spectators to a trickle.
And now, the shameful part. The part I've been building up to for the last fourteen paragraphs. Genius had joined us on the front row. Awards were handed out. Genius snagged a second place this year. All of our students got a ribbon. And Loquacious Lil's daughter also got a ribbon! I know that, because LL let out a yelp of joy. She stood up and walked to the middle section and took a picture over the rail. All actions that were lost on Genius. Perhaps he was down on the floor having his picture taken, writing down his address for the mailing of prize money, when LL was doing this. But one thing is for sure. When she walked by in the opposite direction, having shot down and back up twenty steps with the speed of a frog's tongue snagging a fly, waving her daughter's ribbon, announcing to the crowd, "She was so surprised, she forgot this on the judge's table!" Genius did a double-take. His eyes bugged out. He saw her settle back into her walkchair. And he looked at me with his eyebrows raised.
I couldn't resist. "It's a MIRACLE!"
"That is so wrong! I can't believe you!" But he was laughing. He ducked his head. Shook it. "You are terrible!"
Oh, well. I suppose all mothers have their own way of embarrassing their kids.