“Downtown, downtown, downtown!” I shouted as I clapped my hands together. The children know the drill: get dressed, chug down a smoothie, slap on some shoes, head to the car—half awake. We aren’t exactly known for our early bird tendencies. No one in my family has ever risen from bed with arms spread wide to welcome the morning sun while drifting around the room singing a song a la Mary Poppins. We are meanderers.
On Sunday mornings, I feel a pull within me to do something I like to call A Proper Sunday Morning Meander. Sunday mornings are made for leisurely behavior, ideally while listening to the drip-drop of water slowly trickling down an ancient wall, or slowly running a hand across the rough frame of a wrought iron fence.
It is for sucking in history along with the fresh morning air while the tourists are still snoozing in their hotel beds around downtown Saint Augustine. The trouble is that little kids—specifically my tot and boy—have not yet mastered the art of a proper meander.
This time I’m going to succeed, I told myself reassuringly as I buckled the tot into her car seat. True to form, she still had the impression of the pillow against her chubby little cheek. No matter, we were off.
The Process of a Proper Meander
A half an hour later, there I stood in the still silence of a moldering place. In places that are old and still, it always seems odd to make a lot of noise in them. It is almost sacrilegious. Visions of ladies in elegant dress slowly, slowly strolling the grounds come to mind. They would never have shouted or run about, and their opinion about such things seems to still hang in the air a hundred years later.
The heavy, warm moist air of a Sunday morning in August was hanging around my body at that time too. Humidity has a way of making a person walk slowly, weighted down by a sleepy sort of fog. The place was a perfect example of A Proper Sunday Morning Meandering. Until…
The tot and the boy blasted into the austere courtyard of the Lightner Museum doped up on sugar from our recent donut stop-off. Aslan’s watchful gaze from all four corners of the walls high above was admonishing, as though to say “The past is heavy here, don’t unsettle our dust.” Children that have just eaten a fresh, warm, sticky, sprinkle covered bit of perfection only a few minutes earlier don’t pay any mind to such things.
“Catch me!” The boy shouted to the tot, knowing full well that her little toddler legs would never be able to race through that grass fast enough to even make a snatch at his shirt. Nonetheless, giggling joyfully, the tot made a genuine effort by skipping the stepping stones entirely and rushing through a bit of manicured lawn.
I’ll just show these kids how to do a proper meander, I thought as I strolled toward the koi pond. Across it sits a little bridge that looks like something from a Monet painting. Nothing could be better for a Sunday morning stroll. I nearly reached it before the boy remembered the fish food machine along the pathway. So instead, I meandered backwards and listened to the soft clunk of quarters turned into the machine, and the look of little hands doing their best to contain the sudden flood of fish food released onto them.
“Don’t throw it all in at once,” almost came out in time. The tot stood joyfully above her mass of floating fish food, watching minnows rush toward it. The boy was equally calm, and it occurred to me suddenly that we were sort of—almost—doing that peaceful Sunday morning meandering thing.
On the way out of the courtyard I gave Aslan a nod, which was not an apology for disturbing his peace. After all, now and then he needs beautiful young voices to ring through the air like a fresh wind that blows dust off of old things.
Lions, Naked Ladies — All that Proper Stuff
This may come as a shock to you, dear reader, but little six-year-old boys and little three-year-old girls don’t actually like finery, and it seems on the outset that they certainly would not like antique finery like the Lightner Museum offers.
That said, there is a little something underappreciated by parents everywhere: children inherently like museums. The echoing halls and the shadowy creatures, the mystic of what lies just around the corner—so long as there is not a forced reading of every dusty plaque in the place, children get excited about exploring museums.
With children leading the way, naturally we headed straight for the lion—you know, the guy that has been silently roaring for the last hundred years or so inside a glass case. Then it was straight to the toy section where all those antique dolls sit idly next to a behemoth dollhouse. There I began to play a slightly paranoid waiting game. Which one of these creepy things is going to blink? Just wait for it…
An Improper Meander…Perfected
We kept meandering, because meandering is just what a person ought to do on a Sunday. We were in and out of elevators, around gleaming crystal and ornate furniture. The children stared up with intrigue at the naked ladies painted on enormous canvases. They were naked ladies the way naked ladies are supposed to be—a little round around the middle, and the rest of them proportioned like someone that has never stepped foot inside a plastic surgeon’s office. There’s just nothing wrong meandering past those kind of naked ladies.
We meandered for so long and so far that we meandered out of the museum. There we stood in the sun, and we were just starting to melt and the children were just starting to complain, when the bell tower across the way began to sing. Bells have a way of ringing in the ears like whispers of forgotten memories from past lives. Somewhere, deep inside the genes we carry from our ancestors, a recollection of church bells ringing brings forth that need for a beautiful, restful Sunday.
Whenever I hear the bells immediately that song that starts with “Bells will be ringing, glad, glad news…” pops into my head, and just as immediately I scold myself. It is wayyyyy too early for Christmas music. Nonetheless, the bells beckoned us.
A proper Sunday meandering can only be completed by the boy walking the flowerbed walls within Flagler College. He—always shouting “you have to follow me!”—leads the way into the wide open doors. Then we stand beneath the ornate dome above our heads, trying to strain our eyes and grasp all the details of that beautiful human-made sky above us.
Maybe it was that no Sunday morning meandering is complete without standing under that dome, or maybe it was that when we walked outside again it felt like a hundred and twenty degrees—no matter, the meandering was done, and so was the Sunday morning.
“Home! Home! Home!” I shouted as I clapped my hands to wrangle the children back into their car seats. The children know the drill.
It was a perfectly improper Sunday morning meander, and that is just fine with me.