Many years ago on my way to Illinois to visit my family, I stopped at Pizza Hut in a tiny town to eat supper. Immediately a family caught my eye, as always happens when I'm in a restaurant. (They're my favorite places to eavesdrop and people-watch).

Two women sat across from each other, sisters maybe, or high school friends who still kept in touch. Next to one of them, a little boy sat picking at his pizza. Beside the other woman a little girl of about six squirmed with incessant happiness. Erin, as I soon learned her name from her mom's reprimands, was utterly uninterested in her pizza. She was instead utterly absorbed by her napkin.

This was no ordinary napkin. 

As I watched, Erin carefully unfolded the thin paper napkin in its entirety. After punching a hole in it and slipping it over her head, she said to the boy across from her, "Terry! Look at me! I'm wearing a bib!"

With Terry unimpressed, Erin pulled the napkin from around her neck and stuck a corner of it in her mouth. "Terry, look at me! Santa Claus!" The napkin hung long and white down her pink overalls.

While I waited for my pizza, Erin turned her napkin into a floppy hat, a shawl, a flag, and a thing to balance on your nose. Eventually, of course, the napkin became history, torn to shreds by having become so many interesting objects and costumes.

Although Erin wasn't at all loud or obtrusive, and probably had the attention of no one, including Terry, except for me, occasionally Erin's mom stopped talking long enough to glance at her.

"Erin," she said, "stop being ridiculous."

Each time Erin would momentarily stop, then, when her mom returned to her conversation, Erin found the next magic thing: a spoon. "Terry, look at me!" she said as she stuck out her tongue and carefully balanced the spoon there. Her tattered napkin soon mummified the spoon and it walked across the table to get Terry, making scary sounds. It became a tightrope walker on Erin's thin arm, then a soft musical instrument, then a new way to try and eat pizza.

I didn't leave the restaurant until Erin did, then I drove the rest of the way to Illinois, grateful that my mom always had a sense of wonder as she watched children play, seldom reprimanding us unless we became obnoxious or unruly. All my life, I felt, and still feel, the freedom to let my mind wander and romp and be creative.

Erin, I suppose you're married now, maybe with children. I hope you've forgotten what your mom said to you. I hope you're a painter or writer or sculptor, an artist of some sort.

I hope you let your children be creative and silly because that's a really holy place to be.

I'll never forget you.