The girl was very little, just five years old. Her grandfather, to whom she turned for information on every possible subject, was very old. Terribly old, she thought. He was probably the oldest man in the world. In fact, he was sixty years old. He had lived twelve times as long as she had. It was hard to believe such a thing.
When I am that old, she thought, perhaps I too will know all the things he does. In the meantime, she decided, I will ask him whenever I want to know something.
And she did. One day at the beach she asked him why the water was salty. He explained that all the rivers running into it have an eeny-weeny-tiny bit of salt in them and they have been running in for a long time so the salt had been building up.
“So one day it’ll be even saltier,” she said.
“I guess so,” he said. He did not sound sure, but that was all right. She was happy with his answer.
As the years passed she asked him many questions. She wanted to know if there is really a person like Santa Claus, where rain comes from, why only young ladies have babies, if rhinoceroses that have just one horn are related to unicorns who also have one horn, why boys behave worse than girls, why mothers cook so well and where did they learn, why flowers smell sweet and some don’t, and why does she think of so many questions to ask, and do all kids?
“All kids ask questions, but I don’t think they all ask as many as you do. But that’s all right. You now know the answer to many things. You found out all those interesting things by asking questions.”
“I don’t know if I remember all the answers,” she said.
“If you didn’t remember the answers, that would be disappointing,” he said. “But I think you do. Deep inside you, the answers are there, waiting for the day that you need them. Then they’ll come popping out.”
“That’s nice,” she said.
The next day she had a new question for him. On television they had a weather map. In the map there were loops and circles, and tiny numbers printed inside the loops and circles. “What are those numbers? she asked. “What do they mean?”
He had never before noticed the numbers. “I don’t know what they mean,” he said.
She looked at him in open-mouthed horror. It was a frightening discovery. Her grandfather who had lived so long, did not know what those numbers on the weather map meant. So far he had always known everything she asked.
In later years, when she was asked at what age she lost her innocence, she knew the answer without any doubt. “At the age of five,” she said. “I’ll never forget it. I discovered that my grandfather does not know everything. It was shattering. It had to do with a weather map.”