It’s a part of Las Vegas seldom seen by tourists who would rather spend their time and money in the neon glow of the Strip.
We were on our way out of town for an overnight on Mount Charleston, an 11,000-foot peak an hour’s drive from Vegas that serves as a ski resort in winter, and in other seasons, a respite from the desert inferno.
For me, it was a chance to see a little fall color — not like the autumns I knew as a child in the mountains of North Carolina, but better than no color at all.
I was homesick for fall. My husband knew it. When I said, “Let’s go,” he said, “Yes, let’s.”
You have to like the kind of man who says that.
When a missed exit on the freeway put us on a slightly different path, as life often will, we found ourselves sitting at a traffic light trying to avoid eye contact with people trying to sell us things we didn’t want to buy.
That’s when I spotted her — a skinny little girl about 3 or 4 years old. Her hair was tightly braided in swirly rows, pinned to her scalp with hot-pink barrettes. She wore a short ruffly dress with leggings and sandals, and a smile to outshine all the neon on the Strip. Even at a distance, I could see the light that danced in her eyes.
She seemed well-cared for and happy, skipping across the street holding the hand of a woman who struck me, as my grandmother would say, like somebody who knew how to raise a child right.
That’s all I can tell you. I know nothing, really, about that child. But something about her — how she seemed to see everything at once — reminded me of another child from a lifetime ago.
She grew up in the country, not the city, crossing cow pastures, not crowded streets.
Her family didn’t have a lot, but they had enough, usually, to keep cornbread on the table, a tin roof over her head and hand-me-down shoes on her feet.
At times she wished for things other children took for granted — lunch money or Christmas presents or parents who didn’t fight. But mostly, she felt lucky.
She had teachers who made her feel smart. Sunday-school teachers who made her feel loved. Grandparents who made her think she could hang the moon and all its stars. And a small, but caring community of people who believed in her, cheered for her, opened their hearts and their homes to her, helped her grow up and get a scholarship to go to college, and always prayed for her best.
Children don’t need much. But they need know they matter.
Later that evening, I sat on a balcony at Mount Charleston, with aspen leaves glittering like gold coins in the distance and the colors of sunset spilling over the desert, and thought about the little girl I’d seen on the street.
I hope she has everything she needs — someone to make her feel smart, loved and capable of anything, even the impossible.
Especially the impossible.
I hope her parents are happy, together or apart, and make choices based on her best interests.
I hope she has a good, reliable dog. A sister to look out for her. A brother to read to. And grandparents who swear she hangs the moon and its stars.
I hope the women in her life stick by her, the men say “yes, let’s” and her car always starts.
I hope she goes to college, lands a job she loves and keeps it for as long as she wants.
I hope she marries well, raises her children right and gets to spoil her grandchildren.
I hope she knows she matters.
And in the autumn of her life, if she ever forgets, I hope she will see a child on the street and remember how lucky, how very blessed she has been.
(Sharon Randall can be contacted at P.O. Box 777394, Henderson NV 89077, or at www.sharonrandall.com.)