The two girls played together on the backyard lawn, their toys and blankets strewn around as one of their mothers watched from the kitchen. As next door neighbors, the two children often met this way, some days in one yard, some days in the other, but always under the watchful eye of a mother. Today was no different as the two talked and played in the warm morning sun.
“I haven’t seen your grandpa since last week. Where is he?” Janie wondered.
Millie smiled as she picked up one of her toys and replied, “Mom says he’s gone to ‘the big dance’. Would you like some more tea?”
“Yes, please,” Janie responded, sipping her imaginary tea from a plastic cup. “‘The big dance’? Where’s that?”
Millie put down her toy tea pot, wiped her hands on her smock, and said in a serious tone, “Mom says it’s where people go when they’re very old. It’s a long way away. And she said we won’t hear back from him while he’s there. She seemed a little sad when she told me.”
“My goldfish went to ‘the big up there’. My mom flushed it down the toilet accidentally and I knew ‘cause I saw her do it,” Janie explained. “But she didn’t know I saw her do it, so she just told me about ‘the big up there’.
“I don’t think goldfish can live where the toilet goes. Do you Janie?” Millie asked.
“We never heard back from my goldfish. Just like your grandpa,” Janie said, all emotion leaving her face. “I think ‘the big up there’ is the same as ‘the big dance’, Millie.”
Both girls took tentative imaginary sips from their plastic teacups as they pondered this conversation a bit. Then Millie added, “I do, too. It’s like grandpa was flushed down the toilet, just like your goldfish. Something like that, but not exactly. I mean he’s way bigger than your goldfish.”
“Why don’t we hear from them anymore when they go there? What’s that place like? And will we go there, too, someday?” Janie asked hesitantly.
Millie looked at her best friend and said nothing for a moment, then said, “Let’s invite grandpa and your goldfish for tea tomorrow in your yard! That would be fun.”
Janie nodded, a smile back on her face, and said, “And I’ll cook some special cookies just for them. Would you like a cookie, Millie?”
Millie beamed as Janie handed her an invisible plate of cookies and then both girls began to plan tomorrow’s special outing with grandpa and the goldfish.
Meanwhile, from the kitchen, Millie’s mother was joined by her husband, who wrapped his arms around her waist, gave her a kiss, and asked, “How are the girls doing out there today?”
She turned her head slightly and answered, “Oh, they’re having just the best of times, what with the tea set and the toy oven grandpa bought her last week. Right before he left. Remember?”
“That old rascal, where does he get the energy to do what he’s doing. I mean, going to ‘The Big Sky Square Dance Competition’ in Billings, Montana. And out of cell phone range! At his age! I hope I have half of what he’s got when I get to be in my eighties,” her husband replied.
As they both looked out the window, they couldn’t hear what the girls were talking about, but they knew that whatever it was, they were carefree, without a worry in the world.