Driving and Biking in the Big City

The parade of life marches on

with 3 comments

Old neighborPart of my daily routine is the sighting of an old curmudgeon from the neighborhood who walks a passel of dogs on the gully every day. He never looks up and keeps his eyes on the ground, wearing what I’d consider a barber shop quartet-type hat. A bowler is what it’s really called. This one is straw-colored. He’s a bit dapper for our gully but faded and weary.

His hounds trail beside him and behind him as they all trudge through the sand at a snail’s pace. One black lab is on a leash; one is unleashed, and a blonde, thinning lab is often trailing far behind.

I spent many years leading a parallel life with this neighbor or at least taking a parallel walk, never disturbing him because he always appeared to be withdrawn in himself.  He never looked up. I never spoke. But, like most of my neighbors who have daily rituals that bring them into my path, that routine was broken once and, once it was broken, it was broken forever. If you ever make eye contact and talk, then you can never again walk by without speaking. At least, that’s my rule.

A few days ago, when he walked the gully, I was sitting out on the porch, having already taken my hound out for awhile. The man’s white head was decidedly down so I didn’t attempt to get his attention from my distance.  As I counted his creatures between the slats of my fence, it didn’t take me long to notice he was without his 15-year-old beastie who typically brought up the rear of their daily constitutional. It made me weep for him and his lost companion. I couldn’t stand it.

Ever since our first conversation, I make it a point to talk to the old gentleman if we are out on the gully at the same time. He seemed lonely and in need of company. Perhaps I was his only conversation of the day. Typically, you’d think he’s cranky and wants to be left alone but I discovered that’s not at all true. He always stops and chats if I start a conversation. And, in fact, he will talk for hours if I can think of enough to say. We talk mostly about our dogs — the only subject we have in common. And I’m always the one who eventually chooses to move along. He never breaks the connection.

“Hey,” I say to get him to lift his head and make eye contact. Sometimes it doesn’t work and we both continue along our opposite ways.

“Nice weather,” might get his attention. Don’t we love to talk about the weather. “Breezy this evening.” “Clouds coming.” “Can it get any hotter than this?”

Our other common denominator is the gully itself and the beautiful, rolling communal grounds we walk or I bike every day.

“We could sure use some mowing out here,” is a good bet because he certainly wants to complain if our subdivision fees aren’t being spent wisely.

We are both lovers of nature so we are also inclined to comment on the egrets, herons or the red-shouldered hawks that can be spotted on occasion. A snake sighting is always exciting and makes us both step a bit livelier.

The last time we talked, I’d just lost my Patsy dog to cancer and was enamored of his old white hound who brought up the rear of his slow-moving parade. He and his two hearty black labs inch along at the old gentleman’s pace, and the old hound girl lingers behind until her master grouches for her to catch up. As Jack London would say, “He speaks with the sound of switches in his voice.” But, unlike the man in “To Build a Fire,” I knew this was simply the old gentleman’s alpha voice for leading his pack.

In my talk about Patsy, I learned his old girl was 15 years old. Cookie was her name. Her tan coat was flecked generously with silver, declaring her age. I’ve never had a dog live that long and was curious about his care for his four-legged friends.

He walked his menagerie twice a day, he said. Lived alone otherwise. But he didn’t appear to be the doting pet owner I am. Just a practical man giving his beasties their proper care. Maybe someday I will learn about a past profession or a family but, on these walks, we are in the moment. Only about the now.

How are the mosquitoes? Are the egrets fishing or, if it’s late enough, bullfrogs croaking. We are both sometimes tired and going through the motions.

I’ve been on the porch the last few evenings when I’ve seen him walk by. I don’t holler and wave like I do for most folks because I know he’s a bit hard of hearing and he has his head down so he won’t see me over the fence. When he walked by without his old girl, I had the urge to run out and comfort him. Also inappropriate.

In my career as an observer of human nature, I’d say he doesn’t want me to make a fuss.

So tonight I made a point of getting my surviving hound Tucker out on the gully in time to run into him. And, I’d planned — if he were going the other direction — we would recalibrate to put ourselves in his line of vision. I would ask about Cookie and we would talk about Patsy. I can’t seem to stop thinking of her. We would share common ground in a common loss of a most beloved pet. It would comfort us both.

Tucker and I crossed the bridge and were at the far end of the gully when I saw company coming at the far other end — a little less than a half mile away. I biked; Tucker ran, and we got closer. Finally, I saw the straw bowler and knew I’d timed our adventure just right. Tucker is off leash when I’m biking and a bit of a mess, so I hollered for him to halt. That way, I could pull the bike up next to him and slip the leash over his neck. He’s so good and well behaved, unlike Patsy who was always full of mischief.

Tucker and I poised to await the arrival of the parade. Tucker hunkered down in his submissive pose at the onslaught of the black labs, both of whom are probably double Tucker’s weight. With my eyes on Tucker for the last few minutes, I finally looked up to greet my neighbor. And there, to my surprise and pleasure, shuffled Cookie.

She was still alive, still walking with her friend. I was pleased beyond measure. Tucker and I stood as still as statues while the frisky boys sniffed and moved along. Finally, Cookie came up, shuffled over to me, sniffing my knee and then my hand. I stroked her head and neck and beamed.

“She’s so great,” I told my neighbor, my friend.

“She’s still making it,” he answered. “We are all making it. Another day.”

Yes, we certainly are.





Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

June 18, 2014 at 5:55 pm

3 Responses

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  1. “She’s so great.” I can hear you saying that. As always, Denise…. perfect.


    June 19, 2014 at 7:48 am

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