To escape the bickering, and whining, and catering to the needs and desires of everyone’s demands, I took our dog, Annie, for a walk on a quiet fire trail near our house. Bright and beautiful out, a sweet sea breeze came over the Oakland Hills with the afternoon sun. The mile and a half dirt path along the base of the foothills was mostly vacant, rarely used by even residents of the neighborhood, so I did not leash my dog for the walk.
I saw someone from where I stood on the ridge while I waited for Annie to finish marking her territory in an open field. A woman was coming towards us on the trail below, and I tensed as I scanned for the dog she was most likely walking, but saw none. Still, I called my 70-pound Shepherd-mix to me. My beautiful pound-hound was a bit unpredictable with other dogs. Play. Fight. Run. I never knew which, or why. She passionately loved people, though most didn’t appreciate her bounding up to greet them.
Annie came to me, and I held her collar as we stood on the ridge and watched the woman trudge up the hill. Her white hair looked almost like a silver helmet in the sunlight. She walked slowly, and carefully, and hunched. I made her out to be in her mid-70s. My dog started whining the moment she noticed the woman approaching, then practically yanked my arm off trying to pull away from me and go meet her potential new friend.
The woman was 30 feet away when she noticed us, looked up and stopped. I loudly assured her my dog was very friendly and loved everybody, and that I held her securely, asserting there was no need to worry. The old woman looked at my dog wagging her tail wildly and whining incessantly, and she smiled. She confidently told me she loved dogs, then called mine to her with a pat on her legs and words of welcome. I let go of Annie’s collar. She lopped over to the woman, ears back, but tail up and swishing, and sidled up to her, leaning her downy-soft, muscular frame into the woman’s legs. I joined them on the path where the woman stood stroking my pound-hound.
The old woman gently ran her hand along the length of Annie’s back again and again while extolling the animal’s Sphinx-like appearance and friendly nature. Annie was mesmerized with her touch, as my dog was with just about anyone’s, but the woman seemed to really enjoy the contact as well, her expression set in a soft, contented smile. She explained she’d had several dogs during the years she and her husband raised their three kids. The dogs had passed on, the kids had moved on, now with families of their own. Her husband died two years back and for the first time in her life she was alone.
Her kids, even her grandkids kept telling her to get a dog. I chimed in with words of encouragement, told her about getting my dog at eight weeks old from a kill shelter in Manteca, and ranted about some great local shelters where she could find a great companion.
My graceful hound took off after a squirrel, startling us both. The woman began brushing the dog hair off her pants, but a lot of short hairs were woven into the navy polyester and clung to her pant legs where the dog had leaned against her. “I’ve spent the last 50 years of my life attending to others needs—cooking, cleaning, and more cleaning, and taking care of everyone else. I told myself I deserved a break after my husband lost his three-year battle with brain cancer. I would travel, get out to the movies and play canasta, live the good life.”
Annie came bouncing back, long tongue dangling from her panting (grinning?) mouth. She came to me first to get my pat, then went back to the old woman for more strokes, which the woman gave willingly. “I’ve been on three cruises in the last two years. I play canasta twice a month, and see all the new movies I want.” Again she seemed…pacified, by patting my dog. “Turns out, the good life was when I was needed. Being counted on made me feel vital, and valued. Now, no matter what I do, I mostly just feel lonely.” She straightened and brushed her pant legs off again as my dog swaggered over to the tall grass and lay in it. “I think you all may be right. It’s time I got a dog.” She gave me a pleasant smile. “It’s been a pleasure chatting. Good day to you.” And she went on her way.
I stood there watching her walk along the path, her words echoing in my head. My kids were 12 and 14, and beyond their bickering, and continual demands of my time and energy, parenting them was simply the richest, most rewarding experience of my life. They made me feel vital. Valued. And with my life so integrated into theirs, and my husband by my side joining me in this grand adventure, I virtually never felt lonely anymore, like I had so often before them.
Annie lay in the grass sunning herself. I gave a quick whistle, and she popped up and joined me on our walk home. I stroked my dog as she walked by my side, glad to have her with me, counting on me, as my kids and my husband did, and probably would for many years to come. I imagined the old woman’s empty house and anticipated the tumult in mine.
And suddenly, I felt very lucky indeed to be living the good life.
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