Friday, November 13, 2009
There is a small, old-fashioned ice cream parlor in the pleasant little town of Urbana, Ohio. Decades of existence give Kerr's Sweet Shop a comfortable, well-worn atmosphere, like the feel of your favorite pair of jeans. Urbana is such a tiny town that most everyone knows everyone else personally. As a matter of fact, they usually don't just know you, but your father and grandfather and perhaps they even knew your great-grandfather. There was once a young boy who visited this ice cream parlor quite often on his way around town with his Boxer dog, Gar. Gar was short for Gargantua, named after the famous giant because he grew to be such a big dog -- "ninety-seven pounds of pure muscle!" the boy proclaimed proudly. Whenever he visited the ice cream parlor, which was almost daily in the summer, the boy always ordered two ice cream cones -- a chocolate one for himself, and a vanilla one for Gar. The boy was a self-proclaimed "chocoholic," and he felt bad that Gar always had to settle for vanilla, but he knew that chocolate is dangerous for dogs. Gar didn't seem to mind; he wagged his stubby tail gleefully when the boy held out the vanilla cone for him to lick as they sat together on the steps outside the ice cream parlor. The boy half-kiddingly said that if they could find a way to harness the energy of that tail to a generator, they would have enough power to light all of Urbana for weeks on end. One time the boy was sick with the flu and wasn't able to leave the house to go to school, much less the ice cream parlor. After four days, or maybe a full week, when he was well again, the boy took Gar out for their routine walk around town. The dog trotted happily beside him, no leash required, only stopping a few times to sniff at bushes and hydrants and trees. When the pair came into view of Kerr's Sweet Shop, Gar suddenly left the boy's side and dashed across Main Street. Pausing at the far corner, he glanced back, as if imploring his owner to follow. So the boy did -- he followed Gar right up through the door into the ice cream parlor. The boy walked up to the counter, asked for "the usual," and sifted through change in his pocket to pay. But instead of "the usual" ten cents -- a nickel for each cone -- the man working as ice cream scooper said the boy owed a quarter. The boy was confused. He ordered only two single-scoop cones: one vanilla, one chocolate, just as he always did -- that should be a dime. The man smiled and said, "Well, your dog there's been comin' in the past few afternoons around this time, and he kept barkin' and barkin' and wouldn't stop. We figured since you always get a vanilla cone for 'im, and he likes 'em so well, that we'd just give 'im some ice cream even if you weren't with 'im. So we've sorta been keepin' a tab for 'im here. I hope that's okay." The boy laughed and assured the man it certainly was. In fact, he told them to keep the tab running if Gar came in again by himself -- which the dog occasionally did. Even years later, the boy still got a kick out of telling the story about his crazy dog with its very own charge account at the local ice cream parlor. *** My grandpa -- "Gramps" I affectionately call him -- was that young boy and his story about Gar and the ice cream parlor is one of my favorites. Ever since I was a little girl, I have begged him to tell that story over and over again, wishing I had a Boxer dog just like his beloved Gar, a dog I would raise from a puppy and take for walks around town and get ice cream with, a dog who would sleep at the foot of my bed at night and be my best friend. My dad grew up listening to the same stories, and while he was open to the idea of getting a Boxer, we lived in a small condominium -- way too cramped for a big dog that loves to run around and play. Then, during the summer before I went into the third grade, we moved to a bigger house -- with a backyard -- and suddenly my dream of owning a Boxer seemed wonderfully within reach. That year, as with previous years, a Boxer puppy was at the top of my birthday wish list. I never really expected to get one, at least when we lived in the condo, but when my first birthday arrived in our new house -- I was ten years old -- Gramps came over for dinner to celebrate. He gave me the last present himself: a book about caring for your Boxer puppy. I lifted the cover to find a note written inside: "The real thing will be coming in a few weeks." And sure enough, on a sunny spring day a short time later, I played fetch with my new puppy, Gar, for the first time. Gar soon lived up to his namesake's reputation as quite a goofy character. He doesn't much care for ice cream, but he does love oatmeal cookies -- not chocolate chip, though, because Gramps was quick to tell me that chocolate is bad for dogs. And Gar often "works on his tan" while napping on the porch in the afternoon sunshine. Gramps refers to Gar as my "brother" and spoils him like he is indeed another grandchild, and so it is no surprise that Gar absolutely adores his "grandfather." Another thing Gar adores is going for walks around the neighborhood. If I even whisper the word "walk" he will immediately start jumping around frantically, scratching at the front door in excited anticipation. If I am later than usual in asking, he lets me know he's ready to go by whining at the cupboard drawer where his leash is kept. Every evening, I take Gar out for a two-mile walk around our neighborhood, and though I tell him I am doing him a favor, the truth is it has become one of my favorite parts of the day, too. It is time all to myself, to escape from the hectic routines of the day and take a few minutes to think and reflect upon my life and my dreams. Gar and I walk on a path that runs alongside an orange grove, with a view of rows upon rows of green trees stretching towards the distant hills and shimmering Pacific Ocean. My favorite time of the day to take a walk is just before dusk, when the sun is beginning to set and the California sky is filled with warm, soothing pinks and reds and golds. Some teenagers' special place is their room or a specific hideout, but my sanctuary moves -- it is anywhere beside my dog. Walks with Gar keep me grounded and sane and content, able to enjoy the quiet moments of life that make it so miraculous: a tiny yellow flower blooming through a crack in the sidewalk; the innocent, gleeful laughter of children playing in the neighborhood cul-de-sac; the slobbery wet kiss of a dog as he looks at you with unconditional love and devotion. Especially when I am worried or stressed or sad, walking along beside -- or rather, being pulled along behind -- my wacky, exuberant, eighty-six "pounds of pure muscle" somehow always makes me feel better. It is a place for me to reflect upon my many blessings and be thankful for all I have. Sometimes it is easy to get sucked in by the nerve-wracking, unimportant minutiae of life while forgetting about what's really important: the love of family and friends, the freedom to be yourself, the quiet tranquility of evening walks with the best birthday present ever -- and, yes, the occasional chocolate and vanilla ice cream cones.