The Summer of K

August 30, 2013

 

Labor Day is almost here and that fact generally brings me a sigh of relief that the long, hot, humid days of summer are over for a while.   This summer was different for me though.  True, the heat and humidity took their usual toll on my skin, hair and attitude.  But this year, the summer felt lighter than usual.  This summer one of my little preteen neighbors spent several hours a week in my company.  With her parents unavailable to her during the day, she developed the habit of texting or calling me late each morning with the same question, which generally garnered the usual response.

“Are you home?”

“Yes.”

“Can I come over?”

“Yes.”

“When?”

The reply to the last question depended on what I had on the docket for the day, but usually it was the same as the day before.

“Anytime after 10:00 but you will have to help me with a few things, ok?”

“OK!”

Then, around 10:00, our day together would begin.  Some days we cooked.  Some days we visited friends or delivered food to people.  Some days we washed a dog or a car.  But toward the end of the summer, every day, we would read together.  This routine came about when she announced to me that she had two books to read for school and there were only two weeks of summer vacation left.

“Well,” I announced, “I guess we will have to have reading parties every afternoon.”

“What’s a reading party?” she queried suspiciously.

“Oh!  They are such fun!  I can’t believe you have never been to a reading party. At a reading party, the hostess lies down on the sofa and reads whatever book she is reading at that time and the guest reader lies on the other sofa.  They set a kitchen timer for thirty minutes.  During that time, they each read their books, then when the timer goes off they stop reading, eat popcorn-popped the old fashioned way except with coconut oil-and tell each other what is going on in their books.  They do this for about ten or fifteen minutes and then they lie back down and set the timer again.  They do this at least three times.  Then they end the party with a plan for how many chapters they will read that night.  They shake hands with books on their heads, and then the party is over for that day. And that is a reading party.”

 

“Oh.  OK.  Sounds like fun.”  And it was.  For the next week, we quietly read until one day K asked if we could take turns reading her chapters out loud, so she could practice.  That was fine with me, for her books were really good.  One was called Bud, Not Buddy.  The other was called Wonder.  Both were thoughtful coming of age books that brought tears to my eyes.   I couldn’t wait to see how her books ended.  That last week, I would receive text messages from her alerting me to the page number she was on.

74

109

123

167!

201!  This book is really good! Are you home?  I am going to do GOOD on the test!

And so on, and so on, and so on.  The end of summer crept up. On the day she went back to school, I watched the clock.  At 3:00 on the dot I sent her a text.

“How was the book test?”

“She didn’t give it yet.  Are you home?”

K is now two weeks into the school year and still no test. She seems completely unfazed by it but I am just a touch disappointed.  You see, K works hard for her grades and reading has not always been easy for her, let alone enjoyable.  I knew that if she had the chance be tested on the books, she would do well.  Not only had she finish the books, but we talked endlessly about them.  Still, no test.  As I write this post, the clock reads 2:31.  I know that soon I will hear that familiar BOINK,-boink of my phone alerting me that I have a message.  Maybe today there was a test.  Maybe not and, if the truth be told, it really doesn’t matter.  What matters is that K and I now have a new memory to file away and recall at will.  We read two books together.  We ate popcorn.  We cried over a little boy’s struggle with looking different.  That is what really matters, not the test.  Still, I am curious, so I will wait for the text.  It will come eventually, and I will be home waiting for the details.

 

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The Walk

August 3, 2013

 

Yesterday I took a long walk as I usually do a couple of times a week.  This walk was different however, because it was the first time in almost three years that I did not have my little walking partner, Elly, with me.  Elly was a sweet little dog who came to live with me and my husband by happenstance.  Our neighbors rescued her from the side of the interstate highway after she had been hit by a car that just kept going.  The car had knocked out her top front teeth and she was bloody, but didn’t seem to care much, for she wagged her tail as they carted her off to the vet.  My dear neighbors claimed her as Mother Theresa would an ailing child and nursed her to health just in time for me to start “babysitting” her at my house while they were at work.  Before we all knew it, we were sharing Elly, passing her back and forth whenever the need arose for any of us.  She soon became my sidekick, with the energy and personality of a jumping bean, and the disposition of the Angel Gabriel.  Elly and I were a good pairing.  As a bonus, she fell in love with my husband and I don’t blame her a bit.

Our walk was exactly the same each time we embarked.  Down the street, over the railroad tracks, down the rest of the street, turn right, go one block turn right again, cut through the church parking lot, cross the tracks, continue home until we reached the house.  If we were lucky, Elly would spy a stray chip or sticky margarita glass as we strolled past the Mexican restaurant.  On a really lucky day, a generous diner would slip her an entire chip with or without salsa.  Two miles exactly, twice a week.  She knew every inch of it by heart and led me all the way.  At one house, she regularly anticipated the two little dogs that live behind the fence.  She would slow down and crouch like a cougar as she stealthily approached the picket fence.  The dogs behind the fence would have smelled her arrival so they were waiting stone still until she nosed the fence.  At that point all hell would break loose with barking, sneering, a blur of snouts stabbing through the pickets, paws straddling mud. Regularly, twice a week it was quite a show, until I congratulated her and eased her away from the field of play.  She would leave her adversaries behind with trepidation, but with a proud stance, until the next battlefield came into sight.  We would continue our journey home, passing a bar that always had so many broken bottles around its perimeter that I would have to either cross Elly to the opposite side of the street or pick her up in my arms and wade her through the block so that her paws didn’t suffer cuts and slashes from the waiting glass.  She became so accustomed to this dance that she would sometimes just stop and look at me as if to say,”Ok!  Up I go!”

My walk yesterday was faster than any of the ones I enjoyed with Elly.  No stopping to sniff or squat or bark or snack or lick.  From a cardiovascular perspective, this kind of walk was better for my heart, but from every other perspective this kind of walk was indeed not better for my heart.  The walk was brisk and without interruption, and as I approached the glassy bar I realized that I didn’t have to cross the street anymore so I just kept going, and guess what?  For the first time in three years the sidewalk was clean as a whistle.  Not a beer bottle, whiskey top or angry shard of brown glass to be found.  For three years I have been cursing the management of that establishment for not keeping the sidewalk clean and safe for dogs and toddlers in strollers.  Yesterday, ironically, the sidewalk was pristine.  And yesterday, ironically, that long overdue situation made me furious.  I was mad as hell as I finished the distance to my doorstep.  I was mad because all those times I walked with Elly, I feared that glass would take root in her paw or tongue.  I was mad that Elly ate a piece of a poisonous plant that ultimately took her life.  I was mad that the two dogs behind the fence simply stared at me with disinterest as I passed them by.  I was mad.  Still am.  The good news is that I am also grateful that a little dog with no front teeth came into my life when I least expected it and happily shared my company.  I am not used to her absence yet, but know from experience that time will gently usher me into a sense of comfort without her.  Still, I miss our walks.  I do.