This old house

The yard when we moved here was a tangle of phlox and ferns, a garden reluctantly abandoned by the old woman who lived here before us. Like neighbors who turn up blinking in the sun after a winter indoors, the descendants of these perennials reappear each spring. Today my grandchild Anne is in the garden at ease, a rare treat for a mother of an athletic two-year-old. But soon Jack wakes up, eager for action.

“Why don’t I take him for a walk?” I suggest, assuring Anne that we will return safe and soon. In spite of the hesitancy of her response, we embark, Jack belted into his stroller and I gripping the handle and listing slightly. I want Jack to see the little world where his grandmother and her brothers and sisters played-but we don’t see any children. Those deemed old enough are off to nursery school or play group; or they are in the house blinking at their caretakers’ soap operas. Many mothers are working elsewhere, contributing to the support of the mortgage.

Here comes an old settler like myself, the man for whom a dog was just prescribed as physical therapy. “After my heart attack,” he says, “I got Jerry from the Anti-Cruelty Society. Geraldine was my wife’s name, but I know she wouldn’t mind.” The man hurries on, explaining, ”I have to maintain a good speed for this to do me any good.” I should introduce him to Elsie, who borrows a dog from the couple who live beside her. “While they’re at work,”...

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About the Author

Katharine Byrne’s first essay for Commonweal appeared in June 1964.