She isn’t safe.
Mom sees her first, noticing her through the bay window, walking on the highway with her dogs. “That’s not safe.”
Cars and trucks barrel over the hill and around our bend of highway. Most slow as they pass her, some stop as her dogs cross.
She’s sporting reddish floral leggings, a yellow sweater, another sweater around her waist, a turquoise necklace, a red purse, and tennis shoes. The metal quad cane extends from her right arm, its four feet steadying her as she leans hard into the handle with each step.
“Would you like some help?”
“Oh, I’m okay.”
Cars approach us from both directions as one of the smaller dogs runs towards us, mid-lane. I step into her path and reach down to pick her up as she approaches. Two larger dogs rest in the ditch, watching us with interest.
“I can help.”
“Thanks.” She lifts her right arm and points with the cane, “I’m going right there.” That’s when I notice the small dog in her left arm, slowly slipping out.
“I can carry that one too if you like.”
“Thanks.” She allows me to take the brown and white puppy. She nods at the brown and white dog in my left arm, “That’s the momma.”
The walk to her driveway is less than 300 feet, but our pace to safety is slow. The momma dog is relaxed, but the puppy wiggles and whines for his owner.
During a pause, she lifts her right arm again, this time to point at the dogs in the ditch. “Those two,” then lifting to point farther up, “Remember when those trailers were there?”
Some of the trailers still are.
“Those two were born in those trailers. Their momma died. They’re all’s that’s left of her dogs.”
The two ditch dogs stay put during our stroll to her driveway. Maybe they understand the danger of the highway.
My strolling companion becomes immediately familiar, talking in fragments and slivers of personal information.
“I normally don’t come this way,” she explains. In snippets I can’t always follow, she describes how she ended up here today. She’s clearly exhausted. Based on what I know about the area and her description, she’s been walking at least two miles.
“My lights are out, you know.” She’s talking at a steady clip now, looking up at me between phrases. Her words flow like water over a ridge, cascading and splashing, mixing, tumbling. “My husband, after he passed…”
She explains that they lived in Baton Rouge. I start to tell her I’m from there, but it’s not easy to interject.
“That was my big mistake, coming here.”
I hear a big truck approaching, so I pause and shield her while he passes, slowing only slightly.
“I should have stayed in Baton Rouge, but they made me sell my trailer.”
As we approach her driveway, she seems hesitant to continue with me.
“This is far enough.”
“That’s okay. I’ll walk you to the driveway.”
Catching her breath she continues the cascade of life history. “You know…” she points her cane and names one of the neighbors up the road, “He took my car. They told me I can’t drive no more. But I have a driver’s license. I can drive. But they took my car.”
I know some of her kin probably don’t always do right by her, but taking away her car is not something I fault them for. Sure, maybe she can drive, but that doesn’t mean she should.
“This is far enough,” she repeats as we reach the drive.
“I’ll walk you to the gate.” I want to get her all the way off the highway.
“You see my son’s signs?” she asks.
I smile and nod.
DO NOT ENTER / KEEP OUT
Large, threatening hand-sprayed signs. I wouldn’t dream of going beyond them.
“I’ll just walk you to the gate.”
She changes directions, back towards the highway. “Let me check to see if they delivered my mail!”
She hobbles to the box, talking with each step, bends into the box. Empty.
When we come closer to the gate, I hand her the puppy, set the momma dog down, and watch them walk towards the DO NOT ENTER sign leaning just inside the gate. She turns to me, “Thank you.”
As she turns back to the gate, I tell her, “My name is Pennie.”
She smiles, “I’m Eloise.”
I watch Eloise skirt the giant puddle in front of the gate and walk into the property. As I walk home, I see mom on the my front porch, wringing her hands.
We all deserve a safe place.
I know a little about the families across the street, but mostly second-hand and so it’s not mine to tell stories about them.
- What I know first-hand after today is the tenderness of Eloise. The puppy begged to get back to her the whole time I held him. The momma dog and two bigger dogs followed her devotedly.
- What I know first-hand after my walk with her is the resilience of Eloise. She walked at least two miles on the rural roads and a highway and she probably lives without electricity.
- What I know first-hand after talking to Eloise is her mind is slipping.
Mom isn’t walking down the highway with a red purse and four dogs, but she’s falling apart too. I think her heart leapt from the sofa when she saw Eloise shuffling along the highway with a cane and four dogs because she knows what it is to be lost.
Eloise looks healthy enough, her puppies are well-fed, and she’s not driving, so someone’s doing something right for her. My prayer for Eloise is that she is and feels safe at home.
I share with mom some of the things that Eloise told me. When I explain that I offered to walk her to the gate, mom says, “You can’t go in there!”
“I know mom,” and we walk into the safety of my home.
©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021