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Dog Years

Another horrendously cold system blasted through Chicago today, fifth largest snowstorm on record. When I called to check in, my mother picked up the phone after so many rings, I’d worried as hung on, imagining dreadful scenarios. Her voice told me that all was not well.

They are old, and live in a house that collects snow on the roof, water in the basement and ice on the eaves. They insist on their independence, and on living in a community where the total of their years numbers nearly two hundred. They relish their seed sorting work at the Botanic Garden, the company of their few remaining friends, and their church.

Above all, they’ve stayed, aging in place as it’s sometimes called, for Arthur. They’d been smitten by the young Corgi up for adoption whose appealing mug appeared in the pages of their local newspaper. His owners decided he wasn’t a good fit for their family; he didn’t like small children and tended to nip. Mom and Bob were recently married, but being in their 80’s, Arthur’s peevishness towards kids wasn’t an issue. Mom had cared for my previous step-father and his dog till they both died, though neither was a particularly satisfactory companion. She was ready for a new dog with her new husband, and Arthur was a perfect fit.

They acted much like proud new parents who had somehow gotten lucky enough to have the most clever child in the world. They took daily walks with their frisky dog, and marveled at his vigor and intelligence. They admired his hunting skills, and his thick golden coat. They tried agility training for a spell, and jumped through hoops together. They outfitted their car so Arthur could be propped in his own spot in the back seat, able to see out the window. They taught him tricks, and he taught them a few. They laughed a lot.

The three of them have lived together for almost 13 years and have been in slow decline for the last few. Bob likes to say he’s in fine shape from the waist up. Carrying men on his back through the trenches in the World War did a number on his joints, and replacement of a 25-year old knee replacement took a lot out of him. He sleeps more, but effortlessly beats my sons at cribbage. Mom seems to be shrinking, but is still trying out recipes and taking classes.

Today, in spite of the harsh weather, my mother had to do that most hard thing. Bob couldn’t make it out to the car, so she bundled Arthur into his spot and drove him to the vet for the last time.

When we talk about our community, we usually mean our neighbors, colleagues, friends – other human beings. On this sodden February day, I am thinking about how community includes a host of living things, how we connect with the natural world and each other in such a wonder of ways.


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