Nail salons are interesting places to people watch, and observing others can often bring us full circle to our own lives.

A guy in his early 30s came in with a blond little girl who I later learned was 2½ years old. He wanted her nails painted. He carried her over to the rack of polish bottles and, with some guidance, she picked out a bright pink.

I thought she was a bit young for a manicure, but it was slow at the shop and the owner, who has a 1½-year-old grandson and loves all little ones, was very patient as she sat the girl down and, with a heavy accent, soothingly spoke to her.

And so the manicure began; first lightly filing the toddler's nails, creaming her tiny hands, an application of base coat and polish, and then a flourish of white polka dots on each little finger. The child's father sat by her side all the while, encouraging her to keep still and telling her how pretty her polished nails would look.

When finished with the polish, the shop owner gently picked up the child and brought her over to the nail drying station. On hearing the sound of the dryer, the little girl became frightened. So, instead of using the machine, her father and the proprietor sat and talked to her while waiting for her painted nails to air dry.

The dad told her how surprised her gran'ma would be when she saw her pretty, bright fingers. He asked who else would get to see her polka dot nails. The child replied, "Gran'pa." When they had sat long enough for her nails to dry, the man reached into his pocket for his wallet and handed a bill to the store owner. She refused to take it, though he was quite insistent, but she was equally adamant. "No, no," she said.

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Quickly, the man walked out of the store, instructing his little girl to wait there for him. He returned with a courtesy "get-out-of-jail" card for the owner, explaining that he was a cop and greatly appreciated her kindness to his daughter. The dad then refocused his attention, reminded the child they were now going to the mall to buy a pretzel, and they were out the door.

I was left with a feeling that perhaps I had witnessed a widower or divorced man spending his day off with his little girl and trying to do all the things he thought she would like. There had been no mention of Mommy, only grandparents, who I imagined might be helping to raise her.

Although both my parents raised me, grandparents were a big part of my life, as they might be for this child. In observing the dad and his daughter, I found myself recalling a time when my sister, my mother and I lived with my grandmother for a short period.

Gran'ma's house always felt like a place of safety. These feelings were formulated early in my life when our extended family often gathered on holidays for an all-day meal at my grandparents' house. After the final demitasse and pastry course, it all ended with the women in the kitchen, cleaning up; the men around the table for a game of pinochle, and my cousins and I playing noisily in the living room and sun porch.

At the nail salon, as I watched the father and daughter leaving, my mood softened, and I realized that I went from initially having negative judgments about bringing a child for a manicure at an inappropriately young age, to warm feelings of admiration for a man who was simply trying to make some happy memories and trying hard to be a good dad.

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