'Special'

By

Heather was spending the day with me and we were looking through my photo album of all the grandchildren. At ten, she is the third youngest, a sturdy child with hazel eyes and straight blond hair that hangs to her waist. Her sisters say her hair is always ''a mess.'' I think it quite beautiful.

Each of my grandchildren is special, and I found myself explaining what I meant to Heather one day: This one takes dance lessons, this one knows the constellations of the stars, this one plays Little League baseball, this one -

''What do you say about me?'' Heather asked. ''I don't dance, I can't name the stars, I don't play baseball. There's nothing special about me.''

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''I say you're an artist.''

She argued - an Easter egg drawing she had entered in a contest didn't win; it wasn't nearly good enough. I was stricken. I told her there were many special things about her and I would write them down and mail them to her.

She shrugged, as if it were hopeless.

For the rest of the day, as we did errands, I made mental notes, for specialness is not easy to define. It is as elusive as a dandelion gone to seed and tossed in the wind.

While we waited for my car to be repaired at the dealership, I fell into my usual ''waiting trance,'' leafing through magazines without reading anything in particular. Heather looked at magazines, too, but quickly fastened on a recipe for a cranberry torte and laboriously copied it in a notebook she carried in her canvas tote bag. I had to smile. A cranberry torte. Such an exotic idea - and she, so serious.

Driving away, she said: ''The men who work there were all tall. They had to duck through the door.'' I marveled. I hadn't noticed.

After grocery shopping, I bought her a little oil painting kit. She wanted me to put it back. ''Don't spend all your money on me, Grandma,'' she said. ''You should save it. You need it.''

I insisted, of course, enjoying the novelty of being told not to spend my money. At home, she tackled the painting with zeal, waiting for lunch until it was done. Then she signed the painting with her initials and gave it to me, a gift. I put it on the window ledge above my desk.

''Now I can look at it when I write,'' I told her. She shrugged and looked away, embarrassed that I made such a fuss.

In the afternoon, we went for a walk. We passed a farm where horses were grazing. Heather told me about her own two horses and how she feeds them mornings before going to school, and how she likes to be with them in the barn in winter to hear them stamp their feet and whinny. And how she talks to them because she is often lonely.

''I think about them a lot,'' she said. ''Wouldn't it be nice if horses could just run wild?''

We spotted some wild raspberry bushes beside the road, the branches bent with masses of ripe, red berries. ''We should have brought our pails,'' I said. ''Then - '' But Heather was already racing home for the sand pails and came back bearing them triumphantly, her face red and dripping perspiration, her smile wide, her breath coming in little puffs.

She couldn't pick enough berries fast enough, the brambles tearing at her T-shirt and jeans. She crawled into thickets, lay on her back, abandoned herself to sand and dirt for ''a feast, a feast,'' plopping some berries into her mouth, others into the pail until it was more than half full. She scoffed at the thin layers of berries in my pail and ran home ahead of me. When I arrived, she had washed the berries and arranged them in glass bowls. She served them with milk for supper, she the proud provider of food.

And, oh, yes, we talked about quite a few things. Once, passing a dead bird in the road, we talked about death and what we thought it was and wasn't. Once, after grace at table, we talked about what we thought religion was and wasn't. It was not adult-to-child talk; it was an equal sharing of ideas.

That night, after I had driven Heather home, I sat at my desk, looking often at her painting, and wrote this little recital of the day's events. Then I listed all the special things it told me about her: how observant she is, how persistent, how kind; that she is a thinker. Then I went on to the future: when I visited her home when she was grown, I would expect to find her working on a painting. But she would stop to entertain me, serving fresh raspberries or a cranberry torte. And I would write in my diary that it had been another lovely day because she had made it so.

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