By David Caldwell
Days after the accident at the strawberry festival, I am still pummeling myself.
My wife and I needed a break from the stresses of moving, shopping for a house, getting our two young sons into day care. Debbie and I thought a strawberry festival would make us forget our troubles for an afternoon.
The festival was a disappointment, but it was a nice day, and the kids enjoyed lunch and the walk up and down the nearby Main Street of the tiny, tony New Jersey town. We were on our way back to the car when we saw a place that would be perfect for dessert.
In half of the ground floor of a restored old hotel was a patisserie that offered fresh local strawberries and whipped cream atop homemade pound cake. We ordered enough pound cake for all of us, then walked out to the porch to wait. My wife sauntered to a tent next door with our 2-year-old. Our 5-year-old, Ben, and I waited for the strawberries. Ben walked to a swing on the edge of the porch, behind me.
I turned around. Face down on the sidewalk was a mannequin that belonged to the gift shop. It was 8-foot-tall plaster-cast chef with a pig's head. Ben was standing on the edge of the porch.
"Sorry," he said.
"What happened?" I said.
I scampered down to the sidewalk and picked up the mannequin. A paperboard sign reading "Good Eats!" had broken off a long pole in the mannequin's arms. The mannequin's knuckles were scraped and pushed in, but, otherwise, it was fine. I put it back on the porch, propped the sign in front of the mannequin.
As loud as that thunk! was, no one seemed to notice, or to care. But when Debbie got back, we decided Ben should apologize. This would be a good lesson for him. Sometimes, apologizing to an adult does a better job of making the point. When the waiter returned with our desserts, we told him Ben needed to apologize to the shop's owner.
"You mean you want me to go get him?" he said.
Yes. We dug into our desserts. They were delicious. We took a business card. This was a nice place. We like places like that.
A few minutes later, a young woman came out of the shop. She owned the store with her husband. She walked out to the sidewalk, and looked at the mannequin. Debbie and I looked at Ben.
"Sorry," he said, more meekly than before.
The pause that followed was longer than I expected.
"It's ruined," she said. "Look at it."
"We'll pay for it," I remember saying.
And then, in a voice that seemed almost as loud as that thunk!, she said:
"If you would look after your kids, maybe this wouldn't have happened."
"You wait a minute," I said. "I told you we would pay for it. Look. It's not that heavy. I just picked it up and put it back on the porch myself. And don't you dare question how we raise our kids . "
By then, the woman's husband was there. Debbie suggested that the couple should go inside and discuss a solution. Perhaps we could split the cost in some way. Surely the owners felt somewhat culpable for putting something so valuable, and so fragile, in such a precarious place.
No. The husband said we should replace it. If they paid for it, he said, a day or two of profits would be lost. The wife went inside for the catalog from which they ordered the mannequin.
The woman came back out, thrusting a finger at a line in a catalog, authoritatively, like a baseball manager pointing out an arcane rule on a page of fine print. The mannequin cost $395. Plus another $100 to ship. Five hundred dollars would do it. We could take the old mannequin with us.
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