Friday, October 12, 2007


The dogs and I took our morning walk up the road one day last week. About three blind curves around from our house, where the road levels out for a straight bit before elbowing its way between two high stone walls, there is Boo Radley's house: set back and above the road, with long-unmown weeds almost but not quite concealing the broken down washing machine and the skeleton frames of several hard-used Peugeots. Guarding the house are three dogs, who lurk at the top of the bank and who, when they spot potential invaders, bark bark bark. They seem fierce, fierce enough that I commented on them to the gardener down below.

Did he know those chiens mechants up the road?

Ah, oui, bien sur. Those dogs are very bad. They are always barking, barking, barking. Then the gardener leaned in confidentially, as he likes to do when imparting some particularly useful or insightful tip. Those dogs are not very catholic.

When the protestant dogs chased me, Wendy and Alice, Madame Mere, and her (occupied) stroller down the road, I knew I had to do something. I couldn't really imagine hurting a dog, but then I thought about Boo Radley's dogs threatening the stroller and our dogs (who are still thinking about the whole catholic question). So I began looking around the house for something to carry with me just in case.

I did not look long before I saw my grandfather's walking stick. Granddaddy was a large man, well over six feet in his prime, and his hands--there is a photograph of him embracing me on my wedding day, and one hand covers almost the entire upper part of my back. He farmed cotton and cows and grew some enormous tomatoes, and when he reached a certain age he walked with a cane made out of knobby pine that had been polished to a high sheen. I remember walking beside him through herds of cattle and him using the cane to part the animals. Now the cane is in my umbrella stand.

And now I walk up the road carrying it. It is much too long for me to use as a cane, so I carry it horizontally; it acts as a counterweight to the dogs straining at their leashes in my other hand. The dogs from Boo Radley's have not bothered us since I started carrying the cane. I don't think I will ever need to use it as anything other than a counterweight. When I walk up my French road carrying my granddaddy's cane made from soft North Carolina pine, no mean dogs, whatever their degree of faith, can bother me.

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