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The main draw at Boxcar Barney’s in Mayville, New York is ice cream, especially on hot summer afternoons like this one. When I walked up to order, the line had dwindled to two or three waiting customers, but I knew it would swell again shortly. I was happy that I got my food at just the right time.

Sitting on a plastic bench in the shade, I reflected on how this place was a little bit of heaven. Today it wasn’t the Maple Walnut ice cream for me; it was an order of broiled hot dog with fries. I watched the sailboats and motorboats on Chautauqua Lake.

Then, I saw a big group of kids from a nearby day camp walking ever so quickly, almost running towards Boxcar Barney’s. They had that look of kids on a mission. They had waited all afternoon for their ice cream.

I turned to the woman on the bench behind me. “I bet you’re happy that you got that ice cream when you did,” I said, nodding toward the oncoming crowd.

“I sure am,” she said. As we chatted, I learned that the young man with her was her visiting grandson, who was going to college on the West Coast.

The three of us watched the campers as they walked up to place their orders. The most intriguing kid to me was a boy of about eleven. All the other campers went to stand in line, but he tossed his backpack down on the grass, made a place for himself, pulled out a hardback book, and began to read.

A few of the boys came and sat at my table after they had gotten their ice cream cones because there wasn’t room anywhere else. I found it quite charming how they went about it. No one asked if they could sit with me, they just looked at me to see if I was okay and then quickly sat down and started talking with each other.

All of a sudden a boy about ten with flame-orange hair and matching freckles said to me, “Can I have your french fries?” He pointed to two of them that had fallen out of my cardboard food basket onto the table. I was about to act motherly and say to him that the fries might be unsanitary, but then I decided that if he really wanted the two lone fries it wouldn’t hurt him.

“Sure,” I said. “You can have them.”

“Thanks,” he said, grinning. He gobbled them up so fast that I wanted to offer the rest of my fries to him, but that seemed like I’d be crossing the stranger line. The fries on the table were up for grabs. The fries on my plate had my stamp on them. Some of the boys looked at the French Fry Conqueror in amazement, like they wished that they had asked me for fries too.

My table-mates licked their ice cream really fast until it quickly disappeared and then chased each other around, roaring with laughter. Some of them even briefly stopped to visit with their book-reading friend.

Together the grandma, her grandson and I just watched the campers, amused by their antics.

Suddenly, the French Fry Boy came up to me and said, “Thanks,” and gave me a hug. I was so surprised that I had one of those did-that-just-happen reactions. It was really so charming of him to do. Such a small gesture on my part, forfeiting two lukewarm French fries, but to him it was a big deal.

I turned and looked at the grandma and grandson. They were grinning from ear to ear, along with me, and this exuberant, freckled, young stranger.

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