On a typical block in a small town neighborhood, houses form two rows, back to back, their front doors facing outward and in opposite directions from the homes behind them.
This doesn’t mean one doesn’t come to know his or her neighbors. Especially if the neighbor has a dog, and particularly if that neighbor walks his dog once, twice, and often three times a day down one sidewalk and across a block’s end and up yet another narrow concrete path on the circular route toward back home, stopping to visit with whomever might happen to be outside at any given time, regardless of whether a warm sunny summer morning or frigid cold afternoon with snow flurries swirling overhead.
Jim Johnson was that kind of neighbor. Luther was his small terrier and constant companion.
Jim loved to stop and talk politics. Or tell us about our 100-year-old home’s fascinating history and the people who’d once lived here. Or ask us if we’d read the latest book he’d just finished. He never stopped smiling. Everything in life, it seemed, always had a happy ending.
And while we’d chat and catch up on daily and neighborhood news, Luther always inched them both closer to our chain link fence’s south gate, sniffing the grass while pretending not to notice our two big brown dogs on the fence’s other side, or even that small brown feisty one everyone called “Oh Cocoa!” Luther would wait patiently for the walk to resume, knowing the instant his master rounded the corner that those three brown dogs would retreat inside. He’d show those brown dogs. Tomorrow. Today, though, he and Jim still had stops to make. Other neighbors to visit.
In the nearly five years I’ve lived on this block, I’m quite certain Jim and Luther circled my home thousands of time. A few short days ago, they made their last trip. Mid-morning. A beautiful day. A brief conversation…”See! Cocoa’s not so tough after all!”
The next day the sidewalk lay quiet. Empty. One small rain cloud rumbled discontent, dropped down a bucket of tears in our yard, and then retreated just as quickly as it arrived. For the next two days, the sun fought hard to shine.
Today I learned the news. Jim will not walk our block again. He was 61. And we are less of a neighborhood because of his passing.
Then there’s Luther.
I am saddened beyond words to learn of Jim’s death, but can only imagine that small dog’s sorrow. Jim wasn’t just his neighbor or friend. He’d been his lifetime companion. They’d spent all those quiet nights together. Taken a thousand walks in the rain and snow and sunshine.
Surely, he must be waiting, even now, to walk with Jim again.
We’ll keep walking. We have to. But we’ll see you again, Jim. We’ll pick up where we left off. We’ll meet you near the fence, the south gate. You know the one. Cocoa won’t even pretend to growl, so you may have to look close. But he’ll be sitting there, right between the two big brown dogs and your Luther.
And on that tomorrow, we’ll all go for a walk. You can show us around the new neighborhood.