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copyright 1999, Lois Wickstrom

At the Flea Market

by Lois June Wickstrom

At the end of an alternately hot and cold day at the flea market, I hadn’t sold any of my Soap Magic magnetic soap holders. Around eleven in the morning, a twelve-year-old girl named Deborah suggested I make a commercial for the soap holders starring her. She assured me she was small for her age and could play a child as young as seven if I needed that for the commercial.

As I was closing up my booth and putting my soap and magnetic soap holders into boxes, she skipped happily up. “Did you sell anything?” She seemed sure that if I’d sold even one $10 soap holder, I’d use the profits to make that commercial.

“Nope. Zero,” I told her.

Then she asked me “If you could live today over again, would you do it the same way?” I told her that the question was meaningless because I can’t live today over again.

She persisted. “You have an imagination, don’t you?”

“Of course,” I replied. (I remembered that the last time I used this glib response it was to a man who asked if I’d ever considered suicide.)

“Of course,” she agreed, and looked at me expectantly.

She clearly needed to know if I’d live this day over again the same way despite my lack of sales. I asked myself what her question might mean beyond the obvious words. Did she want to know how important sales and money are to me? What else might concern her?

“Don’t be logical,” the girl continued.

Then I knew -- the question wasn’t about me at all -- it was about her. “Of course I’d do it the same way,” I told her. “Because today I met you.”

“That’s the right answer,” she said. She was silent a while,
watching me pack my magnetic soap holders into boxes.

Then she asked again, “What would you do differently if you could live this day over again?”

“Why do you want to think about that?” I asked her.

“To think,” she replied.

Those are words I live to hear. I’m a former school teacher, and this 12-year-old had just become what my husband calls easy pickings. She wanted to think. She had named her subject:  time. With more children like her, I’d still be in the

“Which would you rather think about: the past that you can’t do anything about, or now?” I asked her.

She said, “You’re tough.” A classic childish cop-out. But she had entered new mental territory. Her face went pensive. I waited.

She walked away. In a few minutes she was back, “If you don’t learn from the past, you are condemned to repeat it in the future.” Another cop-out answer probably gleaned from one of the other vendors, but she was trying. She was ready to go over the edge into original thought -- to the land of answers that nobody has ever spoken before.

I asked her, “What good is it to remember the past? How am I going to have a good time with my father if I’m remembering all the times he spanked me?”

Again, she said, “You’re tough.” This time she smiled. I smiled with her. She knew I wasn’t going to let that be her final answer.

After a while she asked, “But if there’s no past, how will you remember me?” A good, important and original question. I felt myself change gears. Now I was thinking -- I was out there in the land of answers I’d never spoken before. For a moment I wondered what I could say to help her along.

I surprised myself, when I quickly said, “I have always known you.”

The girl looked puzzled, and briefly I doubted if I’d said the
right thing. The words had just come out, as unexpected by me as by her. But they felt right. Then her face lit up. The
think was on.

“If there is no past, how can that be?” the girl asked.

“If there is no past, and I know you now, then there never was a time when I didn’t know you,” I answered. As I said the words, I felt I had learned something important myself. The girl went away happy and puzzled. She had taken the first step into the land of thought.

My next thought was more prosaic. Do I have to pay for tables at flea markets where nobody buys my magnetic soap holders in order to have a good teaching experience?