Friday, July 6, 2012

saving my life: country living + lessons in humility.

We've been house-sitting for my parents this week.

They used the Fourth of July holiday as an excuse to take a trip across the Southeast, first visiting my brother in Nashville, then the family farm in Kentucky. They'll make a pit stop to visit my grandmother in Montgomery before heading back home Sunday, and you know what?

I think I'll kind of miss country life.

My parents live on the outskirts of town. They still live in a neighborhood, and it's not farmland as far as the eye can see, but it's about 30 minutes away from downtown and sits on almost two acres, so it feels like the country to me. Our family moved out that way when I was 10, and when people ask where home is, that front porch is the first thing that comes to mind.

We've been staying here since last Saturday, living what our friend playfully called "the domestic life." We've picked tomatoes and bell peppers, played in the sprinkler and sat on the front porch swing. We've had a cookout with friends and gotten up about an hour earlier than we're accustomed to.

Mom and Dad take care of our dog every time we go out of town, almost no questions asked. It should have been a very little thing to say "yes" to, but I'll admit: My human selfishness made me hesitant. I made jokes about gasoline money and 30-minute commutes.

Really, though, I was nervous about taking care of the dog.

I am not an animal person. Sure, we had pets growing up, two wonderful dogs, one of whom is buried in my parents' backyard. Wishbone -- named after that PBS show with a literary Jack Russell Terrier (the Butterworths are nothing if not consistent in their interests) -- died while I was on a business trip out of town, and I cried alone in my hotel room, sad and hurt and disappointed I couldn't be with my family, couldn't grieve out by that little dog's grave with everyone else. Wishbone was my buddy, even though I've never really liked dog breath or dog hair or dogs that jump up and down and scratch on your legs. Wishbone, though, wasn't like other dogs I knew. He was content to curl up at my feet and cuddle with me while I read a book. Like a cat, only a bajillion times better.

Then Chet bought a big, playful golden retriever named Dixie. I can't remember how long ago that was, but I know it was a big deal, because my brother couldn't ever save his money for anything, yet he somehow managed to save up for this dog.

It was love at first sight for those two. They were perfect for each other: loud and funny and personable. Chet even joked about taking Dixie to the prom, a plan which, I'm sorry to say, never came to fruition. When he moved to Nashville last year, my parents say Dixie spent many nights sleeping right in Chet's doorway, confused and waiting for him to come back. I believe them, because Dixie's a pretty loyal dog, and Chet is her first love.

Now, though, Dixie is old, and she is dying.

We're only house-sitting this week because really, my parents just couldn't bear to board the dog.

This week, then, I haven't really been put in charge of a house so much I have been put in charge of an animal.

Our own dog, by the way, is sweet and good-humored and requires virtually no effort. She follows us along, content to sit at our feet or perch a top the one chair she's allowed to sit on. We got a dog because we figured that was the next step before home ownership or a baby, and she literally wandered right into our lives so perfectly, we figured it must be Fate. I love our dog, even though I do not love how she sheds or how her breath smells. The truth is, though, that I also don't get down in our dog's face and love on her. I don't let her lick all over me or sleep in our bed. I don't hug her or really even pet her all that much. 

You can imagine, then, that changing a dog's shirt and checking on an open wound is new for me. So is getting up early and putting out food and changing dirty, smelly water bowls.

Dixie is old, and watching her age and potentially leave this life is nearly as painful as watching a human age and leave this life, something my family has already experienced once this year. She can barely get up; she drools and slobbers and generally stinks because of it.

When my parents get home, they'll have decisions to make, and I don't envy them that. But they're my parents, and they've made tough decisions before, and this is what being a grown-up is, after all.

In the meantime, I have been doing my part on behalf of my brother. This morning, as I looked into Dixie's big brown eyes and tried to gracefully and painlessly remover her ratty t-shirt (a protection from a healing wound), I barely recognized myself.

This week, I have been living the country life. I have, in the smallest of ways, been working with my hands and taking care of the land. I have tended a home and breathed in fresh air.

But I have also learned lessons in humility and love. I have, each morning, gotten up early, and with sleep still in my eyes, wordlessly and routinely changed water bowls and food bowls. I have let dogs out and brought them back in again.

I have not recognized myself, not really, and I wondered how I could so easily change dog bandages and tenderly care for an animal that, it has to be said, has never really been my own.

It is possible, I have decided, because I love my brother and the home I grew up in. This week, my parents left me in charge. And even though I'm 26 and entirely capable of caring for a house and all that involves, it still feels a little bit like I'm 16, out to prove that houses and dogs are well within my range of responsibility. I am the oldest sibling, doing the things the youngest sibling simply cannot do, now not so much because of age, but because of distance.

This week, humility has saved my life. It has taught me that sometimes, we get down on our hands and knees and do the dirty work, mostly because we love who we're doing it for.

image by Summer Lacey


Elizabeth Dean said...

Now all I want to do is hug Jackson and weep a bit.... thanks? I'm looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday.

Kristy L. Cambron said...

Love the picture and love the post! I am a country-girl myself, making my home in Indiana. Rural humility - it's an interesting topic. : )

Lovely post this week. Thanks for sharing.

Melissa said...

Oh, I'm so sad...I didn't know Dixie was getting so feeble and pitiful...she's been a good friend to Chet and the family. Poor thing. Glad you agreed to house and dog sit! Was a blessing to you all.