Kai laughed as I spun the cart around, lolling in the child seat and playing idly with my hands where I gripped the push bar. I was making random funny noises while he squeezed my fingers in his own...and then suddenly there was my dad, a memory opening up in me as easily as a door, something I hadn't thought of in probably 35 years: a game he used to play, with me when I was tiny, tiny.
Dad would hold up his hand, fingers outspread, and let me squeeze each of his fingers in turn. He'd assigned a goofy sound effect to each digit, so that I would grab onto his hand and he would emit a wacko symphony of noises accordingly. The sounds, from thumb to pinky, were as follows: hooonk; beeeeep; toooot; whistle--all of these the words themselves, spoken onomatopoetically--and, for the pinky, zzzzzzzzzzz! This last was accompanied by a swift tickle in the ribs, which was a thrilling menace. You wanted to avoid that pinky! I'd honk away on Dad's thick, calloused fingers with my own, prolonging the hilarity and the ridiculous tune we were crafting together, before finally succumbing to the inevitable zzzzzzzzzz! right in the belly or armpit. Oh my God, Dad. Dad. Dad.
So I stood there in the grocery store openmouthed, the recollection thrown over me like a blanket, or a bucket of water. I had no idea I possessed this memory still, but suddenly there it was, my dad as real to me as if he was right there. I could see him, could see us, sitting in an orange vinyl booth at the Pancake Haus. I could smell him, the scents of my earliest memories of him: always, always Wrigley's Doublemint Gum and a freshly lit cigarette (though in truth he quit smoking 25 years ago). There was Dad, blowing the paper wrappers off of drinking straws. There was Dad, holding up his hand like a cornball instrument and letting me squeeze his fingers.
So Kai, I owe you one. You gave me back something I had no idea was even there, as if you'd put a little glowing pebble in my hand, something stashed deep away when I was no older than you are now. I won't forget it again. Thank you for that, buddy.