Sunday, June 17, 2012

When worlds collide

As I rounded the corner on my bicycle, the only thing that I could see was the dog.  A heavy set black Labrador standing poised for action with a slight bend in it's back.  The hairs stood up on the back of the dog's neck and a slight growl was audible.  "No!" I stated loudly as I ratcheted my gears in order to begin a speedy takeoff with the hopes of outrunning the beast.  It was at that moment I noticed the man sitting in a chair underneath the tree, chuckling to himself while saying something to calm the dog.  Sheepishly, I stopped my bike and said hello to him.

"She don't quite like bicycles." he said.  "She don't like cars much neither."  The dog continued to utter a low growl towards me and I checked to make sure that I was on pavement and not actually in the dog's yard.  The man commented on how hot of a day that it was and asked if I wanted a pop or some Gatorade.  I politely decline since the dog was still making me a bit uneasy and what I really wanted was to get away from it.  But then as the man and I began to converse, she calmed down and trotted up to the stoop of the house to lay down in the shade, content that I was not a threat.
Old Case knife found on the side of a Kentucky road
Only when the man got up and shuffled over to me with the assistance of a cane did I realize that he was quite old.  As he got closer, I saw a man who had weathered many years and much hard labor.  He extended his hand in greeting and his strong grip belied his years and reflected the farming culture surrounding us.  His arm was blotted and discolored from hours out in the sun.  Likewise his right ear seemed to suffer from additional sun induced decay.  But his eyes were piercing and his voice still strong and authoritative.  I introduced myself and he countered with "M'name's Riley B_.  M'name's Riley B_." repeating himself not out of confusion but to ensure that I remembered it.

He commented on how dry it had been which prompted me to ask if he was a farmer and the surrounding land his fields.  "Yep.  This is all my property.  Bought it when I got married 63 years ago.  Been farming it for 63 years.  Slowing down now.  It's about time that I turn it over to my sons."  His three sons and other extended family members all live on adjacent properties.  This was reinforced by the driver of every car smiling and waving to him with genuine care and familiarity as they passed.  Despite the passing cars, Riley had some business to attend to.  "Doc gave me a water pill to take so's I got to make some water.  'Scuse me."  With that he half turned and urinated on the side of the road.  When the majority of the neighbors are your immediate family, I realized that it indeed didn't matter.

As I described my life and my previous jobs and the trip I was undertaking, Riley looked longingly at my bike.  "I don't know what a vacation is.  I ain't never taken one.  Just worked every day for 63 years."  He said this without a trace of bitterness or accusation in his voice.  "I wish that I could hop on a bicycle and follow along with ya.  I ain't never been out West."  He proceeded to name the handful of surrounding states that he had visited while of course driving a truck for farm work.  "I can't drive much no more.  Can't see the road signs 'til they're next to me.  My two docs don't want me to drive no more.  But I can't bike with ya neither cause of my health."  He proceeded to list several ailments including bypass surgery and multiple hernias that he had endured.

He offered again with the pop or Gatorade so I took him up on it.  Riley walked off and returned with a Diet Coke, realizing a bit of the humor in handing such a skinny man something diet.  He described some of the remaining hills in Jackson County, Kentucky and reminded me to keep an eye on my belongings.  There were also wishes of good luck and safety.  "Now if you come back through here, y'all stop by and see me again" he said.  I assured him that I would.  Riley returned to his chair and watched me ride off with a smile on his face.

6 comments:

  1. Great post. Laying off of the demands for sheep photos for one post to express deep appreciation. For one post only. No sheep photos next post? HEADS WILL ROLL.

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  2. Excellent piece of writing.

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  3. Fantastic. Loved this entry. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Wow I didn't think the dog story was going to end like that! I also had to chuckle at the diet soda. Happy trails, Stephen

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  5. Sitting in the Philly airport I had to check up on your travels! Many GOA friends were asking where you might have roamed.... I figured I should brush up on my reading so that I knew myself! Safe travels! *jen

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  6. What a colorfully portrayed snippet of your Life!

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