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 hadnt sold any of my Soap MagicÒ magnetic soap
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
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 Id
sold even one $10 soap holder, Id 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 cant live today over again.
She persisted. You have an imagination, dont you?
Of course, I replied. (I remembered that the last time I used
this glib response it was to a man who asked if Id ever
Of course, she agreed, and looked at me expectantly.
She clearly needed to know if Id 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?
Dont be logical, the girl continued.
Then I knew -- the question wasnt about me at all -- it was
about her. Of course Id do it the same way, I told her.
Because today I met you.
Thats 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
Why do you want to think about that? I asked her.
To think, she replied.
Those are words I live to hear. Im 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, Id still be in
Which would you rather think about: the past that you cant do
anything about, or now? I asked her.
She said, Youre tough. A classic childish cop-out. But she
had entered new mental territory. Her face went pensive. I
She walked away. In a few minutes she was back, If you dont
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 Im remembering all the times he spanked
Again, she said, Youre tough. This time she smiled. I smiled with her.
She knew I wasnt going to let that be her final answer.
After a while she asked, But if theres 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 Id 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
The girl looked puzzled, and briefly I doubted if Id 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
didnt 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?