I’m expecting the day to be a long one. A trip to the city with the boys and the dog. It’s hot and the dog is the one I’m worried about. He’s a handful. We have errands to run, and a dentist visit to make (right downtown, of course) and the dog is newish to us and I don’t know how he will travel. And he doesn’t heel or come or sit even, and how will we manage in the busy city?

It is a glorious day. The dog is perfect. The kids are wonderful. The mom is thankful.

We stop to pick up the long-awaited banjo. It has been on order for months, and Colton is thrilled to get it. He dumps out his wallet with the gift cards from Christmas and the crumpled bills and all the change, and it all covers the countertop, every hard-earned cent. The clerk graciously helps him count it out, dimes and nickels and all, Β and he has exactly enough. He tucks a few coins back in his pocket and picks up his dream. He can’t wait to try it.

Tyson, who has been dog-walking in the parking lot, finds a banjo-tuning app on his iPod, and Colton finds some Earl Scruggs on my iPhone, and it’s all banjo all the time for the rest of the trip. A little Scruggs and some Steve Martin for fun, and, of course, the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys.

We find a parking spot downtown and leave Tyson with the dog, again. After almost three years, this is Colton’s last visit. The receptionist congratulates him on his graduation as we leave.

We drive to the mall on the south end of town, and park at the back of the lot where there is a little strip of grass and a bit of shade. Colton stays with the dog this time and the rest of us head inside. I buy the mango body butter I’ve been wanting – actually, I buy two, because they are buy one get one half-price and who knows when I will be back in the city again – and Tyson and Colton hang out for a few minutes in the games store. We buy huge, unhealthy cinnamon buns and a bottle of water to share, and we trek back across the parking lot to our shady picnic spot.

Several people walk by and many of them stop to visit for a minute. They smile, and they say, what a good idea, and they comment on the dog. I let the boys carry the conversations, and it makes me happy. The easy way they have with strangers, their willingness to engage.

They fool around a bit with the banjo, and the next visitor, an older lady, is enchanted. She remembers the old days and the barn dances and the boys smile and joke with her. Lovely.

Reluctantly, I pack up the garbage and call the boys to load the dog. We have another appointment in Moose Jaw on our way home, and we need to be on our way.

I leave the city, thankful for the graceful moments we’ve had along the way. Thankful for the helpful clerks and handy parking spots and kind receptionists. But thankful, especially, that we took the opportunity to picnic in the parking lot.