Author’s note: This is a piece I wrote five years ago. I made several weak attempts at getting it published—all unsuccessful. Now, I’ve decided to post it in short chapters on my blog. All names have been changed and some details. Since I wrote this, my beloved dog, Baxter, has died, I’ve gained weight, again, and have three novels published and two more in the works. Like the river, life goes on and is usually wonderful! Enjoy and feel free to give me feedback. Bill Mathis
The River Path – Chapter 8
I walk Baxter evenings too, along the same route, twelve months a year. In the winter, only a few brave souls venture out, especially when the wind-chill is minus twenty or worse. Once the weather begins to thaw, the evening traffic gradually picks up until, come summer, it’s almost a rush hour. A slow, easy, family walking, stroller pushing, ice cream dripping, dog-walking, lovers on the bench, teens hanging out, rush hour along the path through the park. As a result, evening walks in summer take longer. Take longer because kids love Baxter, and he loves their attention, as do I.
An extended family meanders along the path speaking Spanish or accented English. Kids weave in, between, and around the adults, then up to Baxter, their brown eyes bright with the question of petting him. If it’s OK with your parents, I say. They fall to the ground petting, trying to hug, squeezing. “Suave. Suave (Gentle. Gentle),” I say in my poorly accented Spanish.
The kids immediately relax their grips; their parent’s eyes open wide in surprise. I laughingly explain that my daughter’s partner is a man from Columbia and my toddler grandson hears mostly Spanish in their home. I add that I know few other words. They laugh with appreciation. Baxter and I walk away with two of the children staying close beside us, hoping to extend their time with him. One, a six-year-old girl, asks me, “What kind of dog is Baxter?” Asks in perfect English. I answer, then walk on as I wonder about their stories, their paths, their rocks. I smile and hope for their dreams, and their beautiful children.
I think about Gilberto Ramos, the fifteen-year-old Guatemalan boy who, in 2014, died in the Texas desert while sneaking into our country. About my great, great-grandfather, who in 1860, at fifteen, the same age as Gilberto, stowed away on a ship out of Hamburg, Germany and snuck into the United States, fought in the Civil War, became a citizen and whose daughter married my great grandfather. I think about some of my evangelical family and friends who sincerely proclaim the Bible as infallible and inerrant, yet rant against illegal aliens and all those deadbeats on welfare. I read what the Bible says about the sojourners and the poor among us. About family. Then, sometimes, sometimes I worry.
Dreams and dams. Bridges and fences. Despair and success. Goldfinches and frogs. Pain and joy. “Faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” And grace, always grace. This is the current that flows through my mind as I walk along the river, by the dam. Through my life.
Next week, I will begin posting excerpts from my third novel, The Rooming House Gallery – Connecting the Dots. It’s a companion book (meaning you can read either one first) to The Rooming House Diaries – Life, Love & Secrets, and explains what happened to the old rooming house and how the diaries changed the latest occupants as they form a new family.