My neighbors’ friendliness is a soothing welcome. It staves off the loneliness of living in a world that is too fast and too overwhelming.
Shedding the winter wool and sweaters reveals that I grew a little softer in the darker, colder months. Afternoons when rain prevented me from walking, created a couple extra pounds. Well, that and getting lost in a new book and a batch of fresh-baked muffins.
Now the onset of spring changes everything. I can wear my baseball hats and tees, definitely not dressing my age. And the lengthening of my stride, the quickening of my step, adds miles to the walks in the warm spring temperatures.
It’s an adventure to walk my neighborhood. When hubby and I set out for this afternoon’s walk, we see the eight-year-old who lives near us. He has a Labrador retriever that looks a lot like my dog, Jeter. It’s not fair to say that the kid walks his dog. He runs the dog. It’s an image we’ve come to anticipate: the dog running next to the boy, who is pumping his arms and legs as hard and fast as he can, as they fly down the sidewalk, both of them with big smiles on their faces in pure joy.
Further up the street, Penny, the neighborhood queen, has pulled her chair out onto the lawn to hold court. Lucky, her old black dog, sits by her side, holding court too. Everyone stops by, a respectable six feet apart, of course. When Penny is sitting outside in her lawn chair, and she waves, it’s like there’s a magnetic pull. We cross the street, and she gets up to greet us. “Lucky is so glad that you came to visit,” she says in her sweet Texas way. A conversation about the dogs or the weather ensues, often with Penny telling us what Lucky thinks or feels about a certain situation.
When we first met her, she was a little scary. Knowing that we’d just moved here, she wanted to tell us all about the rattlesnakes and how to “kill ’em with a garden hoe.” She told us about the fire ants that can make your horribly sick with their painful sting. Hubby and I walked away from those visit with our hearts beating rapidly and a question on our lips: “Where the hell have we moved to?”
After we got the snakes and the deadly fire ants out of the way though, most of our talks with Penny have been about the dogs or some bit of news about the work being done on Highway 620. “Lucky is just so happy that you’re here,” she tells us with a smile. “You take care now, you hear,” she adds as she waves good-bye. Out of the corner of my eye, I see someone else crossing the street to pay homage.
We pass a house where a large brown-and-black something of a dog lives. Mastiff? Labrador on steroids? It’s hard to tell. He just looks like a dog that shouldn’t be messed with. We don’t stop at that house, even though the owner is in the front yard, planting impatiens around the oaks. The dog’s name is Rock Star. Devil Dog would have been more appropriate. He raises his head and watches us go by. Each time I pass him, I swear I hear a low, rumbling growl. “That’s a serious effin’ dog,” hubby says as we pick up our step.
Jeter, hubby, and I make it past the park and up to River Bend Elementary, and I say that I want to go a little bit further. I’m going for perky bootie, which means another mile, at least. In my younger days, my bootie used to sit higher up; now it takes a lot more work. Why should I care at my age? I’m embarrassed to say that I’m shallow enough to cling to a little bit of physical vanity to motivate myself. At a certain point, it will all get pulled down to my knees by gravity. One day everything will sag. It will all be loose. Bones in loose skin, face turned toward the sun, eyes closed and smiling in the light while it lasts. But I’m not ready for sunsets yet, so on to one more mile.
Later, as we’re coming back, we’re happy to note that Rock Star has been taken inside. Penny is still on the lawn, but she is talking with another neighbor. And the little boy with the yellow Lab like ours has now started up a ball game in the cul-de-sac. I love seeing the characters in my neighborhood, but most especially Penny.
She is the best part of the adventure. I depend upon her for the news of our community. In the last neighborhood where I lived, there was someone who knew everything that was going on too, but she sounded gossipy. Penny, on the other hand is regal, the grande dame of our neighborhood. She never shares people’s private business, but more of what amounts to public service announcements, like the bit about killing snakes or how the water on Quinlan Park Road, near the Randall’s supermarket, still isn’t draining well.
This is all part of the spring ritual. Losing those winter pounds, hanging out with Penny for a few minutes and listening to the neighborhood news, spoken in that soft southern drawl of hers. I’m waking up from the gray, and feeling the joy and excitement of nature reinventing herself, and plotting the reinvention of my own self through more activity in these strange new times.