As a child I used to go to a park every day and seek out somebody to teeter-totter with. I was a very small child, and the children I found to be my partners were mostly bigger and heavier, so I pretty much got the better of the fun. They'd wind up sitting a lot on their end of the board down on the ground, while I rode high in the air on mine, like a cowboy on a rearing horse, calling, ''Giddy-up!''
One day something extraordinary happened. I'd just arrived at the board and begun peering about when I saw heading toward me what looked like a child not all that much bigger than myself. But when the figure stopped, bent down, and smiled at me, I saw that it was a very tiny old lady with gauzy white hair and gray eyes that gleamed like a sky in which the sun is about to shine. She, a grown-up, asked me to teeter-totter.
As she took her place on her end of the board I knew that this time, our sizes being almost equal, I wasn't going to have it so easy; I was going to have to do my share of the work. And for the next few minutes I had to match a vigor that sometimes nearly bounced me off my end of the board. Gravity became a tangible thing to me, thick and crunchy as an apple, teetering up or tottering down.
Who was she, this sprightly soul? I don't know. The whole time we were teeter-tottering, she talked to me, maybe even told me the story of her life. But I was so young then that I have forgotten her words. I remember only her name - Josephine - and her face.
It was a kindly one. The face of someone who would never say a harsh word to another and not ask forgiveness. Someone who wanted for nothing and yet did not forget the suffering of others. And her mouth wasn't a stingy little purse from which she doled out a smile now and then, like charity; it was the whole fortune of her heart.
I like to think she was somebody's free-spirited grandmother. Her husband, may he rest in peace, was gone. Her children were grown, and so were her grandchildren. And now, having spent a lifetime toiling away and caring for others, she was going to have some fun herself. Perhaps this was the first time she had teeter-tottered since she had been a child, and she wanted to recapture the freedom, the fling of her childhood; she wanted to span the years.
In her spirit she reminds me of three grandmotherly souls I saw frolicking up a beach many years later. They were wearing white gauze dresses and shoes that looked littler then the little turtles for sale at Woolworth's. What fun they were having! Taking her shoes off, one waded a ways out into the foamy water, squirming and jumping up and down with delight, as if the water were tickling the bottoms of her feet. Another sneaked up behind her and gave a shove farther out. The third ran out and shoved the shover, and then the fun turned into a free-for-all. Shoved and shovers chased one another in the foam, getting shoes and hems of dresses soaked but not caring. Their laughter had a tinny, new sound , like toy trumpets never tooted before. It was half squeaks, half giggles.
What is it that is so wonderful when the old, on a beach, on a teeter-totter, become for a moment a child again? I think of that fun I had teeter-tottering with Josephine, each of us splitting gravity's apple in equal measure, and I can only think that whatever may be lost in between, the end of human life can hold its own with the beginning.
And I remember one thing more. After we finished teeter-tottering, my partner , her sunny eyes spotting some swings, her stamina undaunted, asked if I'd care to have a go at swinging. I declined, but offered to push her.
''Higher,'' she called as I pushed, and pushed, until my young arms ached. ''Higher!''
Fly, Josephine, fly.