When Annie was a few months old I began to carry her around in a back pack. I would take her outside for a walk in the neighborhood, a suburban plat of one story brick houses, or farther afield to the Penn State farm that abutted the houses on the northern most street of our development. We would walk through a small wood and come out into open spaces that were mostly corn fields. I would point out birds and rabbits and squirrels to her, and she wiggled when she got excited by something. Sometimes we found cows behind a fence in a side field tucked away in the corner of the wood, and I mooed at them to try to get them to come near.
One day we saw crows on the ground in front of us in a harvested corn field. I decided to sneak up on the birds, but a sentinel crow in the top of a pine tree fifty yards away cawed a warning every time we got near. Our target would fly off and settle twenty feet further on. We stalked several birds, but to no avail. I decided to walk toward the sentinel. I waved my arms and cawed at it, and it decided that the jig was up. The sentinel and the rest of the flock took off from their perches in a fluttering black wave climbing upward into the sky, wheeled in formation and flew far away.
The seasons changed to fall and winter, and sometimes we went out on walks even when it snowed as long as the temperature wasn’t too bitter or the wind too blustery. Sometimes Annie would tire out quickly and I would feel her head slump forward until it rested on the back of mine. Then I could feel her softly breathing on my neck. I would immediately head back home and carefully extricate her from the back pack while sitting on my bed. She usually stayed sound asleep, and I would lay her in her crib still wearing her pink, furry snow suit.
One day as we were passing through a park we encountered a woman walking her dog. The dog jumped, strain at its leash and barked at us. The middle aged lady shushed her German shepherd mix and apologized for the commotion, but added as she pulled it away from us, “He’s never seen a two headed person before.” I didn’t know what she meant at first, but eventually figured out that Annie had leaned forward and peeped when she first saw the dog. It must have looked like her head had erupted out of my shoulder.
I played games with her during the day when she was in a happy mood. I would lay her on my bed on her back, and circle around the room with my arms stretched out as I pretended to be an airplane. I would suddenly halt and stare down at her. I would make a few tentative dives toward her while making an engine sound (“rrrrrrrr”). She would start wiggling her arms and legs in anticipation, and then I would roar toward her at full throttle and make my attack run. I would pretend to dive at her, but swerved to one side at the last moment and landed on the bed beside her. She would bounce up and down for a second or two and look confused and excited.
I used the laundry to entertain her too. I would lay her down on the bed beside a basket of clean laundry. I would start out by dropping a sock down on top of her. She would bat it away with her feet while it was in mid air. Then two socks were dropped. She would dispose of them in the same way. Then I would bomb her with a clump of socks. Bat, bat, bat! Finally I would take the rest of the basket and dump half a load of whites down on top of her until she was partially covered. She would fight her way out by batting, swatting and thrashing, and would emerge with bright eyes and an eager look on her face.
She always cried when she woke up from a nap, but would be happy and eager to see me once I showed up in her doorway. When she got strong enough to pull herself up, she would be standing at the bars of her crib when I came into the room. She began to make noises early on, and her first word was “Ma”. She would chirp, “Ma, ma, ma, ma,” at me when I greeted her. I would bend down and say to her in a mock-fierce voice, “I’m not your mother!” She would giggle and run away from me to the other side of the crib. Sometimes I would add, “Sharper, sharper than a serpent’s tooth is an ungrateful child!” while wiggling a crooked finger at her.
She found her first Bible lesson hilarious, and didn’t take the meaning of the verse seriously at all. I crossed “theologian” off my list of probable careers for Annie.