I almost didn’t take that road home this morning. Its twists and curves in and out, down and around the hills and forest might not bode well for a commute through the fresh covering of snow left last night.

I didn’t want to stop when I saw the woman chipping away at the chunks of ice barricading her house from the rest of civilization. It was cold, my house was warm, my writing beckoned.

I knew I would think of her all morning if I didn’t.

I slipped and slid my way through a sloppy three point turn and peered into the unfamiliar driveways until I found the beacon of her yellow jacket.

“Would you like some help?” I called.

In the time it had taken me to circle back, she’d started back up her driveway. She had paused when she saw me pull over and now made her way back to my car.

“I was just headed inside for a break,” she said. “I go in for about 45 minutes to warm up, then come back out. It’s a lot easier today than it was yesterday, I’ll tell you.”

I noticed now that three-quarters of the driveway had already been cleared, presumably by the metal shovel and approximation of a turf spade she held in her hands.

“Are you a neighbor?”

I explained where I lived in relation to her house. Not exactly neighbors, but I passed by her house quite frequently en route to mine.

“Let me ask you, have you had any problems with your mailbox?”

She pointed out the naked post next to her driveway and explained that in the five and a half years since her husband died, she’d had three mailboxes knocked over by plows. Her granddaughter and husband reinstalled one one spring; her son shored up another. She’d called town hall. A plowman who came out to her house told her in brusque tones it was the snow, not him, that was responsible. When she objected to his tone of voice, saying that town hall never would have spoken to its residents that way in her old town, he said she’d paid more taxes in that town.

“But I worked in that town hall,” she said. “I was the voice of town hall.”

I discovered her motivation to clear the driveway: so she could haul her mangled mailbox to town hall.

She asked my name and introduced herself, telling me to beep and wave the next time I went by and then she’d know who it was. When I turned around a few houses down from her house in the other direction and passed back by on my way home, I saw her yellow jacket at the top of the driveway, heading into the open bay of her garage.

I’d still think of Peggy all morning, but not with guilt for not helping her; in gratitude for having met her.

Whatsoever you do for the least of my people, you do for me.

The Zen of Buddy

No errands for me.  No languishing in stores simply because I’m sans kids and don’t have to hightail it out the door.  Not even a cup of joe to go.

The plan today was head straight home after preschool drop-off, brew a cup of tea, and write! 

There was the reflection I’d entered into my journal two nights ago to be expounded upon.  There was the humorous quip forming in my head that I must look good because it’s been two mornings now that another mother has oh-so-discreetly done the smile to full-body-scan maneuver.  Yes, the hem of my pants meets my shoes.  And yes, I wear shoes everyday.  Do you need a fashion report?  Urgh. 

Stuff, thoughts, words rattling – all waiting patiently for me to let them free.

Until, suddenly, a dog appeared on my horizon. 

As I turned the corner to my street, I spied a big black lab trotting down the side of the road.  I vaguely noticed something behind him and, maneuvering past another car coming the opposite direction, just assumed it was his owner trailing along.  Upon closer inspection, I realized the dog was all alone and dragging along some manner of brush.  Several families in our neighborhood have black labs and I did see a collar on him with a leash of some kind, so I figured he’d just gotten away on a walk.  I pulled to the side of the road to waylay him until his master came down the hill. 

Knowing the dog and I were strangers, I approached him slowly and talked in a friendly tone.  He was happy to come sniff my hand, but just as happy to root his nose around in the grass, bushes, dirt and sand around us.  Talking all the while to him about his predicament, I realized what I had thought was a leash was actually a lead, snapped right off its anchor in his yard, somewhere, and wrapped around what looked like a pine tree.  It was small mind you, as far as pine trees go, but a good size for a dog to be dragging around.  I still haven’t figured out if it was an actual tree or a good size limb and whether it had already been felled or if he’d snapped it right off in his furious escape. 

I also realized that his owner was not coming down the hill.  It was just me and Buddy, as I’d taken to calling him.  Great, I thought, he jumped his lead, his owners are at work (and therefore not looking for him), and I have no idea where he belongs.  I picked the first house I knew of that had a lab somewhat known for wandering.  Their cars were in the driveway!  Awesome! 

Before I reached the door, I heard the calling and whistling.  I couldn’t make out the name, but I knew it was Buddy’s master seeking him.  Good news.  Bad news.  The voice echoed through the woods behind the neighbor’s yard in which I stood, which meant it was from another dead-end street nearly a quarter-mile away.  To double-check my instincts and echolocation, I checked for Buddy’s identification. 

Buddy was Bruschi and he did live on that presumptive street. 

So Buddy/Bruschi and I set off, me coiling the plastic-covered wire around as many times as I could to rein him in and not get my hand cut off should he bolt, he happily and haplessly sniffing, peeing, bobbing, and weaving.  I kept telling Buddy/Bruschi that we could not dally, could he not hear his master?  He was worried about him.  I hurried as best I could to assuage his master’s fears.  I jogged as much as I could, Buddy/Bruschi excitedly keeping pace, but was glad after awhile for his pit stops.  Though, he eventually made so many to leave his mark, I highly doubt he had any pee left. 

I knew where Buddy/Bruschi’s street was, but wasn’t familiar with the house number.  I checked mailboxes as he sniffed.  Does this smell like home, Buddy?  I asked.  A man walking another dog approached and Buddy sped up.  Oh, great, I thought, is Buddy/Bruschi one of those dogs that mauls strange dogs he meets on the street?  I shortened the lead when the man started talking.

“Where did you find him?”

It took me a minute to realize this was Buddy/Bruschi’s owner.  Obviously overcome with worry and relief at his return, he’d skipped formalities and headed straight to questioning.  He was exasperatedly impressed with Buddy/Bruschi’s prowess at mowing down brush when I recounted how I’d found him.  He asked how I’d known to come to his street, I guess forgetting in his mania that he himself affixed the tags with his address to Buddy/Bruschi’s collar.  Good thing he’d thought of this precaution when he had a clear head.  Then he introduced himself, ‘by the way.’  And thanked me profusely. 

I removed my sweaty fleece and walked home, feeling like a good neighbor, a good citizen, able to problem solve and help others at the drop of hat – or pine bough, in this case. 

I was glad I didn’t have to jog this leg of the trip, but I found that I missed Buddy.  Maybe finding myself in the new situation of all three children in school at once has left me wanting someone to ramble on at incessantly.  I most definitely used my singsong mom-voice with Buddy.  It was nice to have someone to be responsible for, but who couldn’t talk back.  A fun-loving companion.  Someone to whom a roaming walk through the woods meant everything, every new smell a discovery, every moment a present (get it?).  Buddy was completely present in the moment, though.  I’m sure he heard his master calling, but if a mailbox suddenly presented itself, he was going to pee on it.  If there was road kill to be sniffed, it would be sniffed gosh darn it.  One thing at a time, people. 

When I picked up my youngest daughter at preschool a very short time later, I told her I’d made a doggy friend.  I want to make a doggy friend, she said.  Well maybe we’ll take a walk and meet Buddy someday, I said. 

You wouldn’t think meeting a dog determined for discovery this morning would make such an impression, but Buddy did. 

Just keep running, just keep running . . .

Just keep running, just keep running . . .

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