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Matthew was almost five and very tired that evening as they crossed the lake on the ferry heading home. Slumped between his grandparents, he clutched a large red fire truck they’d bought him earlier that afternoon.
The toy fire truck gave him comfort – it was well past his bedtime and Matthew was homesick. Almost a week had passed since his parents had left the little guy visiting his doting grandparents at their summer place on the lake. His grandmother, who he called Nana, had insisted. Nana had practically grabbed Matthew from his mother’s arms as his family was leaving for home after a visit.
That evening on the ferry, Matthew’s little fingers kept finding their way to three buttons on the fire truck. One button operated the flashing lights and the horn, and the second ran the loud pulsating two-tone siren. The third was the biggy . . . it put all three into action causing a cascade of bright urgent lights and compelling sounds. The noise occasionally grated on the nerves of his weary grandparents. Like Matthew, both were exhausted after a full day of playing with their exuberant grandson. The fire truck kept Matthew distracted and therefore reasonably happy most of the time, which meant all three were happy . . . most of the time.
Occasionally on their 45-minute ferry ride, Matthew became restless and a few times came close to tears. The novelty of the fire truck was wearing off. To help settle him down, Matthew’s grandfather carried him up and down the aisles of the ferry passenger compartment, Matthew holding his fire truck close to him. From time to time, Matthew would push the dreaded ‘third’ button. Happily, the ferry carried few passengers that evening.
His grandfather had observed the frequency of the button pushing appeared to be in direct proportion to how close Matthew was to tears at any given time. Distractions became a priority. As the ferry trip progressed, his grandfather also noticed the more diverse the route taken the more curious Matthew became of his surroundings, and less attention he paid to his fire truck. That was a useful insight . . . and merciful. Soon their route encompassed trips up and down the stairs to the upper level, and around both passenger levels. The only occupants on the top level were a middle-aged couple. Up and down and around the small ferry Matthew and Grandpa went, time after time. But soon, nothing was new enough along the route to provide distractions. Much too soon, the sounds of the loud toy fire truck were once again breaking the evening calm aboard the ferry.
Grandpa headed back to the upper level.
“Jeez,” said the man they’d seen earlier, speaking loudly to the woman beside him, evidently his wife: “We came up here for some peace and quiet! Now we have to put up with this damned racket!”
“Hush,” his wife replied calmly. “The little fellow’s tired. The man’s doing the best he can.”
The fire truck flashed brightly and screamed urgently. An exhausted and irritable Matthew had unleashed all three functions at once. He and his grandfather were in the aisle between the two rows of double seats. Grandpa knew his grandson was on the verge of a late evening meltdown, so he said nothing to Matthew, knowing they’d be docking soon.
They walked past the older couple.
The man turned to his wife again, this time venting his frustration, and saying louder than needed:
“Why the hell doesn’t he keep that damned kid quiet!”
Matthew and his grandfather were a few steps past the couple when the man made the comment.
His grandfather turned and replied calmly:
“You know, if you asked my grandson nicely, I’m sure he would let you push the buttons on his fire truck all by yourself.”
The woman made no attempt to contain her laughter.