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.

Mike Cox

Mike Cox

Mike Cox currently writes a weekly column in South Carolina for the Columbia Star called "It's Not a Criticism, It's an Observation." He is trying to grow old as gracefully as possible without condemning the current generation in charge to doom. Each day this task gets harder as the overwhelming evidence mounts. He currently has two published books; Finding Daddy Cox, and October Saturdays. His columns have won three South Carolina Press Association awards since 2003. Mike has three sons and two grandchildren and lives in Irmo, Sc, just outside of Columbia.

  1. Mike as a man within your age distinction that has recently lost the type of friend you described it was great to read your story and hard to read your story. My 18 year old friend and friendship was a female cross between a Rottwieler and German Shephard. She was definitely protective but I didn’t have to speak to know what was expected and all she had to do was look at me to know what she was needing.. If you had stated no words were spoken between the old man and the dog I would have understood. I am sure there are those that have no idea what I’m talking about. These type of friends are few and far between. Unconditional love!

  2. Oh! Watermellon wine is not bad either!

  3. Cliff Green

    Mike, CSmith: As an old man who lost an old dog, I know exactly what you’re talking about.

  4. Keith Graham

    As do I. My old dog Arlo died 10 full years ago, and I still miss him every day. But let’s face it. Some of us old men might not be missed quite so long. As a now dead author (yet another old man) that I once spent a pleasant evening with said (over and over), “So it goes.”

  5. Frank Povah

    My old mate Tim, like me, is now hoary around the muzzle and finding it harder to jump up on to chairs. I don’t want to think about it.

  6. Keith could it be our conditional love that makes us easy to forget?

  7. This one – author unknown – shows up fairly regularly on dog sites:

    We are thinking now of a bloodhound, whose coat was flame in the sunshine and who, so far as we are aware, never entertained a mean or unworthy thought. This bloodhound is buried beneath a cherry tree, under four feet of garden loam,and at its proper season the cherry tree strews petals on the green lawn of his grave. Beneath a cherry tree, or an apple, or any flowering shrub of the garden, is an excellent place to bury a dog. Beneath such trees, such shrubs, he slept in the drowsy summer, or gnawed at a flavored bone, or lifted his head to challenge some strange intruder. These are good places, in life or in death. Yet it is a small matter, and it touches sentiment more than anything else. For if the dog be well remembered, if sometimes he leaps through your dreams actual as in life, eyes kindling, questing, asking, laughing, begging, it matters not at all where that dog sleeps and last. On a hill where the wind is unrebuked, and the trees are roaring, or beside a stream he knew in puppyhood, or somewhere in the flatness of a pasture land, where most exhilarating cattle graze. It is all one to the dog, and all one to you, and nothing is gained, and nothing is lost – if memory lives. But there is one best place to bury a dog. One place that is best of all.
    If you bury him in this spot, the secret of which you must already have, he will come to you when you call – come to you over the grim, dim frontiers of death, and down the well-remembered path, and to your side again. And though you call a dozen living dogs, they should not growl at him, nor resent his coming, for he is yours and he belongs here. People may scoff at you, who see no lightest blade of grass bent by his foot, who hear no whimper pitched too fine for mere audition, people who may never really have had a dog. Smile at them then, for you shall know something that is hidden from them, and which is well worth knowing. The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of his master.

  8. My old dog is named Dixie, she understands what I say. She has her way of telling me things. It took her longer to train me than it did for me to train her. I try not to think about life without her.

  9. Don’t leave us old ladies out. I remember more than eighty years of my dogs: Snubs, Treu, Molly, Maggie, and more, and now Sweetie, my 15 year old companion schnauzer. We speak to each other with our eyes and hearts. God bless them all, those dogs who have so enriched our lives.

  10. Ms. Willis although Mr. Cox’s article is mainly about us old guys and dogs being treated like nutered old race horses we do know and are aware that you ladies have had your special friends as well. We dog lovers have all had different friends over the years but there seems to be one maybe two that leave special memories. It is a shame their life span is not longer but to quote one young boy in the many forwared e-mails “we have to learn unconditional love and friendship which takes a longer life and dogs seem to know that lesson when they are born”.

  11. Frank Povah

    C Smith: Whoever that boy is, send him a pat on the back from me – and let’s nominate him for a wisdom-already-attained medal.

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