The grocery cart moved stubbornly down the aisle; three metal wheels rolling in unison while the fourth flitted back and forth on its casters, periodically pushing the cart to the left. Our weekly trek to the ACME supermarket with our dad was an event aimed at stocking the food pantry and temporarily delaying my “post-apocalyptic, pancakes-for-dinner, nightmare scenario.” Or maybe its purpose was to give our mom some much-needed down time. Whatever its purpose, as a five-year old, I looked forward to shopping in what I had learned from Saturday morning cartoons to be the supply depot of preference for Wile E. Coyote! Where are the explosive ACME tennis balls?!

My father perused his more mundane list, while pushing the cart down the produce aisle; my younger sister sat quietly in the front kid’s seat. I hung onto the back of the cart; my feet firmly planted on the rail above the wheels. My two older siblings walked on opposite sides of the cart, periodically appropriating items from their respective sides of the aisle and throwing them into the cart.  My introduction to Marshmallow Fluff was due to their efforts!

Oranges: 4 for 30¢. My father placed four oranges into the lap of my younger sister and proceeded around the corner to the next aisle; three wheels turning in unison, while the fourth wheel continued to flutter. “Well hello there…taking the kids for a walk?” The fourth wheel moved perpendicular to the other three and the cart skidded to a halt. The fourth orange fell from my sister’s lap and rolled quietly away from the cart. “Hello Mrs. G…just resupplying…the four kids are eating us out of house and home!” “Good to get them all out though…gives their mom a break…how are you doing…” The conversation between our neighbor and our dad continued in the background, as my attention focused on the fourth orange and its silent journey down the aisle.

A few minutes passed and the sudden movement of the cart stirred me back to the task at hand as we recommenced our journey through the store in search of ACME rocket skates. The fourth orange now laid still and unnoticed under a shelf at the end of the aisle. Our cart moved forward; the fourth wheel periodically pushing it to the left.

The number 4 is remarkable. It’s easily partitioned into quarters. Inherent to its structure is a disincentive to remain whole. Lose one and at three there is 75% success; respectable! I know what you’re thinking, but that’s not where the story is going. To the contrary…no fears…we made it home…all four kids and three oranges! Remarkable for the kids; respectable for the oranges.

But that’s the magic of family. For a number so easily divided, the four of us kids spent a lot of time together; sometimes with our dad…at the grocery store or perhaps ice skating or sledding. Or with our mom shopping for school clothes or baking in the kitchen. Most importantly we spent time with both our mom and dad…traveling, camping, going to a baseball game, visiting family and friends, or just playing games together at home. As a family of four kids, the number 4 created an inner attraction among the siblings that drew us together instead of apart. We recognized that there were times when, like the cart, the four wheels didn’t roll in unison, but the framework of family kept us whole nonetheless. Through our differences, we learned the value of diversity and tolerance even as our common threads stitched us closer together.  And we were always better together!

Back home, in the kitchen, our mom had finished mixing the chocolate cake batter and was pouring the mixture into the greased baking pan. She handed one of the two beaters to each of my older siblings, the spoon to me, and the plastic mixing bowl to my younger sister who immediately placed it on her head. The cake was a welcome change to the four kids since our mom’s original plan for dessert called for the juice, pulp and grated rind of four oranges. We had finished licking the batter and our mom was beginning to prepare the frosting. The four of us kids fought for her attention. We were super energized on our sugar highs, but deliberate and together in our objective. She began to count out the four tablespoons of additional sugar that the recipe called for…“One, two, three…”  Call-outs of “mom” came from all angles. Distracted for a moment, she began again.  “…two, three, four.”  Heh…heh!  150% success! Remarkable!

2 thoughts on “The Number 4!

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