People Watching Abroad: A Story of Parents and Teens

Portree, Scotland on the Isle of Skye

Portree, Scotland on the Isle of Skye

by Bobbi Lerman

One of my absolute favorite pastimes when I travel is to find the local town square or green and settle in. There I can happily spend a few hours sitting on a bench or a stone wall as I watch local life unfold before me. Town squares are perfect for this particular activity. No matter what village, city, state, province or country I happen to find myself, the one constant to discovering the rhythm, the soul of any place is people watching and people listening. Okay, I’m a writer, eavesdropping is second nature to me, not to mention the fabulous story lines and ideas I pick up. Eating an ice cream while you do it is an added bonus.

The last time my husband and I were in Scotland, we spent a few nights on one of my most beloved destinations: The Isle of Skye. I am unable to go to Scotland without taking at least a couple of days to breathe in the magic of this spectacular isle of castles, open moorland, and mist filled mountains that roll down to the sea. If you were ever going to cross paths with the faery folk, this would be the place.

My husband Steve and I tend to sightsee in the morning, which leaves the afternoons for connecting with local life, chatting up shopkeepers, searching out the best local place for lunch, buying some chocolate and caramel-dipped shortbread cookies to nibble on over a late-night cup of tea. On one particular day, after a wonderful lunch in Portree and before heading over to the square, we made sure to get a double scoop ice cream cone. Steve and I had our usual debate over who had the better flavors. This time it was between my combination of caramel and strawberry and his of chocolate and coffee. After exchanging tastes, we called it a draw.

We chose a bench at one end of the small, cobblestone square for its excellent vantage point. Except for an older man with a plaid cap, smoking his cigar while reading the newspaper, the only other locals were a gaggle of teens who took up a couple of the benches to our right. They appeared to be somewhere between the ages of 14 and l7.

We could hear the buzz of their non-stop chatter and laughter. They chased each other around, leaping over benches, tumbling on the ground, showing off for the girls who mostly giggled as they whispered to each other. Some held lit cigarettes and I spotted a bottle of beer or two that were furtively pulled out and guzzled down. Our people watching was interrupted by the screeching of a car that came to a stop just behind us. We turned to watch a man with a close-cropped, almost-chocolate brown beard and matching color hair get out of the car. He slammed the door. His wellies squeaked as he stomped across the square while shouting out the name, "Ellie."

A girl with reddish brown hair separated herself from the pack. From where we sat, I could see the bright red blush of embarrassment fill her cheeks. “Da, what are you doing here?” she groaned.

“What am I doing here?” The man stopped a few feet from the girl. “What am I doing here?” He repeated. “You told your mother you were going to the library to work on a school project with Rachel.” His voice rose, “this doesn’t look like the library to me.” He took a step toward his daughter, glancing about at the group of teens who were now trying desperately to look anywhere but at him. “And I don’t see Rachel, where might she be then?”

“She’s at the library,” the girl stuttered. "I … I ... mean, she went back to her house. We finished early and I thought to come out here with my friends for a bit before coming home.”

“More fibbing is not going to go well for you, girl,” he snapped. He crooked his finger at her and then let out a loud sigh. “Come on, then. We will talk about this when we get home. Your mother is waiting.”

We watched as the man took hold of his daughter’s arm and began to tug her across the square toward where he had parked his car. Ellie took a glance back at her friends, who looked on with clear sympathy etched across their faces. One boy, I could not help but notice, looked particularly crestfallen.

As father and daughter passed us, I offered him a sympathetic smile. He gave me a crooked one in return. “Kids,” he shrugged. Steve and I turned and watched as he maneuvered his reluctant daughter into the passenger side. He slammed the door with the clear aggravation only a parent of a teenager is familiar with before sliding in behind the wheel. As the car pulled out, we could hear his voice raised in lecture mode.

Both Steve and I burst out laughing. We looked at each in understanding, having both been there more than once when our daughter navigated her teen years. I shook my head and took another bite of my ice cream, amused and strangely happy at the realization that sometimes no matter how far from home you might travel, understanding between people can take place with one word or a mere glance. When it comes to parents and their teen children, some things never change. Parental love is most often universal. Parental aggravation comes in a close second.

Bobbi Lerman first began composing short stories in her early teens. Her writing now encompasses travel and personal essay, historical medieval romance with a touch of the paranormal. Bobbi is the founder of Scribbler’s Ink, an active online community, and website offering interviews with authors, writing tips, daily prompts, workshops and writing retreats. She currently lives in a small town north of Boston with her husband and Skye her cat. You can find her on Facebook and at scribblersink.com.

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