Thursday, October 16, 2014

Old Yeller Lives

    We have a hen named Bob who is able to fly out of the chicken yard into the dangerous world beyond.  Bob feels terribly superior upon landing on the exotic side of the fence; she scratches vigorously, lording it over her penned-in sisters.
    About thirty seconds later, she is consumed with remorse.  She races up and down on her side of the fence, clucking frantically for the paradise of water, kitchen scraps and pricey organic chicken feed in which her buddies are happily wallowing.
    The more upset she gets, the less she is able to remember the way back in.  Mr. Coyote: please stay busy elsewhere until Bob calms down and flies back over!
    Yesterday Bob was still out doing her dance of regret when the dogs and I had to leave the ol' homestead to go pick up the boys from school and take the younger one to baseball practice.  At the field the older boy sat on the open tailgate of my truck and tried to be polite whenever someone spoke to him, that is, distracted him from his book.  The first to do this was Juree, the homeless man who often shares with us his particular mix of common sense, delusion and old-time religion. "Son, you know the definition of integrity?" he asked my boy.  "The Webster Dictionary definition?"
     "It means being your real self, not your fake self," the kid said after a moment of thought.
     "Pretty close!" Juree crowed.  "Integrity means you keep your dignities," he said.
     "Yes sir," the boy said, his eyes turning stealthily back to the page.
     The dogs lounged against us and I scratched behind their ears, silently thanking them for not trying to rush out to the field to herd ballplayers.  I realized that my dogs live a cushier life than Juree does; they'd soon be heading home with us to sleep on beds, breakfast a sure thing, plenty of love in between.  My chickens also live a more luxurious life, with steady food, water and shelter, as long as they stay around to enjoy it.
     On the field, the helmeted boys were lining up to hit.  "Be a hitter, you're a hitter," their coach said quietly but firmly to each kid.
    "It's like them animals on the ark," Juree was saying.  (Now there's a story to make you love your own bed: forty nights on a boat while your old world drowns outside, a sample of every part of your new world crammed in the boat with you.)  "The goose," he said, "the gander, the doe, the buck, the sheep and the ram, the mare, the stallion, and Old Yeller of course."
     I suddenly found something very interesting to look at behind Ivy's ear and thought of our impending taxes to calm the laugh forming like a tiny tsunami, unbidden, right behind my breastbone.  Strange, because I cried my young heart out over poor Old Yeller, years ago.  
     "Yes," I said, bald tax guy, hope we don't owe too much.  "Yes."  Was he referring to my dogs, or to the microcosm of life there at the ballpark: young and old, privileged and lacking, agile and broken-down, dignities intact and not?  I don't know.  One of the worst players on the team slammed a ball into left field.  The next struck out, sprinted stoically to the back of the line.      
    My own life is very certain; the biggest chance I take is making a new recipe for dinner, and I'm filled with regret and dread as I do it, sure my family won't like it, wishing I had made an old favorite instead.  Racing senselessly up and down on the wrong side of the fence, wondering why I ever flew out.
     When do we stop crying our eyes out over films and books?  When did I?  I miss the pure, untroubled sorrow of sobbing over a character I've known for a few hundred pages, or a couple of hours.  Too much to cry over in real life: there's my answer.  Of course Old Yeller was on the ark, because everything was.  Why didn't I think of that?   

P.S. Check out the great collection of blogs at this week's yeah write;  I'm happy to be among them.

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