I am a “southern girl.”
My ancestors are nearly entirely from Virginia. I grew up in the land of cotton, peanuts and tobacco, although my immediate family lived in small cities, meaning I wasn’t a farm girl. We would pass the fields heading out of town. In the south, regardless of how one might feel, politeness is expected at all times. "Yes sir" and "No ma’am" are so ingrained it’s difficult for me to not use the phrases, even though I am now an “elder” and these days more accustomed to receiving the ma’am than extending it.
It is 2018. Politics and propaganda have divided our citizens into Us or Them. Women are tired of being called darlin’ and teens are tired of worrying about being shot to death in school. I have never liked being called Sugar or Sweetie and I recoil anytime a stranger reaches out to hug or (ugh!) kiss me. I’m not even fond of friends putting their lips on me, but I admit to being a consummate hugger of those I like.
Today I walked out of the bank and headed to my little Honda, the one I inherited from Mama after she died. My siblings were kind enough to let me have it, which meant a great deal, as my husband had always told Mama he’d like to buy it when she was ready to sell. In the back of that Honda was my tall boy, a hound mix of black and tan. We’d just been to the vet for his annual shots. The drive-thru at the bank was backed up, so I parked around front and walked in to deposit a few checks. A few moments later as I headed just a few steps out of the door, an elderly man in ragged layers of shirts and jackets and work boots stepped away from a shiny red Jeep and said, “Can I ask you a question?” He pointed to my car, his face worn from sun and age, his longish gray hair wild under his cap. He looked back at me with tired, rheumy, bloodshot eyes. “What is that?”
I looked in the back seat and back at him. Smiling, I replied, “Why that’s a dog!” He burst out laughing and approached, wrapping his arm around me and pulling me in close to his side. “Hahaha! I know that! His smile was broad and genuine. “I mean, what is that; what kind?”
“ A weimaraner mix.”
“ A what?”
“A weimaraner mix.”
He seemed puzzled so I gently moved away, opened the door and let my boy out while cautioning the man. “He is very shy, so don’t reach out for him.”
My tall pup is impressive at 84 pounds. He stands at table height with extraordinary, long legs. He looked at me, then the man and after a few seconds decided the man was ok. He wagged his tail and let the man pet him. The conversation continued. “I had a dog but he died a few years back. I miss him. I have had many a girlfriend,” he said, “but…”
“You prefer the company of a dog.” I filled in.
His eyes twinkled as he reached to hug me again.
Here is where I tell you I set him straight. That I made sure he understood that touching me without permission was inappropriate and he needed to get his hands off of me. But that isn’t how it went. Instead, I realized he was just an old southern fella, unkempt and likely lonely. He missed his dog, he had no woman and noting the man driving the Jeep, who was deeply involved with his cell phone, I suspected he was simply being the man he’d likely been all of his life.
We spoke a little more about dogs and why we prefer their company sometimes. “Can I ask you another question? So why do you think that is?” He asked.
“Because they don’t judge us,” I answered.
A different, gentler look crossed his weathered face. He pulled me close again, wrapping his arm around my back and shoulder for another big side-hug. Although I wasn’t easy with it, I knew he meant no harm. I gently moved away and put my big boy back in the back seat, closed the door and we said our farewells.
The old man walked into the bank as this old woman got back into her Honda and drove home.
Artist, Teacher, Dog Mom, Kindness Advocate