I noticed the shoes first. They were fluorescent white, just out of a shoebox, just out of Wal-Mart. The old man wore khaki pants and a plaid shirt under a light jacket. A faded red Farm Supply baseball cap sat on his head.
He could have been anywhere between 65 and 85, depending on how hard his life had been. The old survivor walked slowly toward the entrance of the convenience store, aided by a spiral walking stick.
Just after the door closed behind him, I noticed the dog. An ancient yellow lab, his face mostly gray, rested in the bed of a green pickup parked half out of sight next to the store. Only his massive head was visible above the side panel.
Like a lot of old dogs, this one sat, drowsing patiently in the bed of the truck, waiting for the driver to return, lost in his thoughts. I hope old dogs have memories. They deserve them; rolling in something smelly, impressive offspring, maybe a favorite lady.
In a few minutes, the old man reappeared and had trouble getting out of the Step Saver. With the walking stick in his right hand and a package in his left, he had to shoulder his way outside. It took all those years of experience to make it to the sidewalk without being forced back inside by the hydraulic arm.
After the door closed, I noticed a piece of ham wrapped loosely in butcher paper. It looked odd dangling from his hand instead of wrapped tightly for transport. Then he started toward the truck.
The old dog acknowledged the man, but only slightly. The lab’s head followed his progress slowly around the pickup truck. When the man stopped, the dog walked to him.
The old timer rested his elbows on the truck bed and leaned closer. He talked quietly to the Lab, his head angled to one side, speaking words meant for no one else. There were no other inhabitants in their world.
The ancient animal stared back and wagged his tail as fast as advanced dog years would allow. After a one-sided discussion between the two, the meat was handed over. The dog slowly ate while the old man watched; his chin resting on the truck panel, his eyes glistening.
When the dog finished his treat, the two friends communicated a little more; one talking, the other listening. Then the old man climbed into the truck and slowly drove away.
Old men in pickups can be solitary figures. They outlast or alienate those around them until they stand alone. Anyone living that long has wisdom and could probably be coaxed into sharing it with a bit of effort. Too bad most of us are in too great a hurry to listen, or have something electronic stuck in our ear.
Tom T. Hall sang that old dogs, little children, and watermelon wine pretty much covered life’s necessities. I watched an old man that day who obviously loved one old dog.
Our society used to respect old men but they are no longer important. No one wants to slow down long enough to hear what they offer. No one thinks their accumulated wisdom is worth following. We are all a little worse off because of it.