“Honey, my job is a priority,” my husband reminded, after saying that he would not be home to help me pack for our family vacation. Every summer, Francis’ work seems to get in the way of our annual beach trip. It’s become tradition for me to do all the planning, packing, dog-kenneling, kid-nagging, and driving to North Carolina, while Francis shows up late “because he has to work.”
This year, Francis was not only going to arrive at the beach after I’ve made beds and chilled beverages, he was also departing early “for work,” leaving me to clean, re-pack, and make the twelve-hour drive home.
So, I was feeling sorry for myself.
“Military spouses are expected to do everything,” I thought while wrestling the heavy mower down the steps of our shed. The grass was so long, I had to stop every lap to empty the clippings. My nails were stained green, a flying bit of mulch speared my shin, and I stepped in dog doo … twice.
“I’m too old for this,” I grumbled to myself.
At one point, I saw my 80-something-year-old neighbor, Sandy, waving a crumpled tissue at me from her side of the fence.
“How have you been?” I asked after silencing the mower.
“I have a problem with my teeth,” she said, oddly. She went on to explain that her dog, a huge labradoodle named Zoey, had chewed up her bridge. I noted gaps in her molars as she spoke.
“Oh, I just love your dog,” she said, looking over at our yellow lab. “What’s her name again?”
“He’s male, and his name is Moby.” I had told her this many times before.
“You know,” she said, gesturing excitedly to the street with her hand, “she got out and came over to my kitchen door one day!” Sandy had also told me this before, about how smart our dog must be to have found Zoey’s house. “Your dog loves Zoey. What’s her name again?”
We went around in circles like this a few more times, talking about the same things we always talked about — our dogs, which pine trees shed too many needles, Sandy’s old house in Connecticut. I glanced down at my watch. Still so much to do to get ready for vacation. I tried to make a break for it.
“Hey, could you come over with your dog so I can show you my cabin?” Sandy pleaded. She had asked to show me her little log house several times since we moved to the neighborhood a year ago, but I had always avoided it. This time, guilt got the better of me.
We entered Sandy’s kitchen door, and she giggled when Moby lapped from Zoey’s bowls. She shuffled me through her tiny kitchen, an unused guest bedroom, and the log living room. Home Shopping Channel was on the television. A dusty ceramic Christmas tree sat on the mantle with cards from her grown children who lived out of state. Sandy told me to climb the stairs to the loft to see the dollhouse that she had put there in case grandchildren ever visited.
They were too old for dolls now.
Having seen her cabin, I poised myself to make an exit. “Sit for a minute, would you?”
Sandy gestured to a creaky wicker settee and smiled widely despite the gaps in her molars. “I’ll open the window so we can smell the sea.”
Sandy talked more about her old house in Connecticut, her grown children, and the dogs, before she asked me if I wanted to see her doll house. I explained that I’d already seen it.
“Oh, yes … what’s your name again?” I wrote my name, address, phone number and “Moby (male dog)” in large block letters on an index card Sandy retrieved from a kitchen drawer.
“You can bring Zoey over to play at my house next time,” I told her.
Walking home, I remembered the board games I needed to pack, the damp grass I needed to cut, the laundry I needed to finish, and the 12-hour drive I had to make to the beach with the kids.
And I was grateful.