There is a sweet 3.75 mile loop around our neighborhood that I like to walk in the early mornings. It is not my only route, but it is a good length and on pleasant roads with some pretty views. This morning I walked it for the last time for a while.
When I was about 3, my older brother Peter, 5, and I were playing in our neighbor’s yard. We lived in the caretaker’s cottage on a large estate in Rye, NY. The neighbor’s house was a few yards away from ours. It was a modern ranch style house and I think that one of the groundskeepers for the estate lived there with his family. I don’t remember the children in the family, but I do remember frequently sitting on their sunny cement stoop eating oreos and drinking milk that someone must have given to us. The house of the groundskeeper and our cottage were at the end of a long elm-lined road with a cul de sac. The estate had horses and farm land and a big plantation-style house at the top of the hill. I don’t know who lived there and legend has it that this farm was the original site planned for the United Nations… until it wasn’t.
My brother and I played in the haystacks and picked ripe tomatoes from the garden and climbed on the white fences that lined the property and defined the yards.
One day, as we were playing outside, one of the German Shepherds from the big house chased us, snarling and growling all the while. I remember struggling to climb up onto the lowest slat of the white fence to get away, and I remember my brother’s jeans caught between the teeth of the dog. That’s it. Since then- 60 years hence- I have been afraid of dogs.
Moments after I took this pretty picture, I rounded the corner and came up on the rise of the hill at the one busy road on my path.
I was listening to the Morning Prayer broadcast from the Washington National Cathedral and thinking about my daughter Emma, who turns 35 today. I was listening to Dean Randy Hollerith go on about the Gospel of John and the lesson for today. I didn’t see the Great Dane until he was 12 feet from me.
I was across the road, on the edge of the cornfield. The Great Dane was in his front yard, barking, and then in the road, snarling, and then at my side. His owner- a young guy in a camo baseball cap and navy blue hoodie- was moving a little too slow for my comfort in his attempt to retrieve the dog. It’s a dangerous spot on the road. A blind hill. A dump truck screeched to a halt at the rise. The dog snapped at my leg and, just as I pulled a Tippi Hedren and shrieked, covering my face with my hands, the dog owner caught the collar of the dog and pulled him down.
Now, I know that Tippi was attacked by birds, and not by a dog… and that she had on a smart tailored suit with a short jacket and pencil skirt and that I looked like a vagrant with tie dyed leggings and a too-big sweatshirt… but in the moment that I shrieked, her image came to me. It was comical, really- Tippi Hedren, The Dean of the National Cathedral whispering in my ear about Jesus, and a giant mean dog, all back lit by a beautiful Central Pennsylvania sunrise.
I had one of those out of body experiences as I watched myself walk down the hill away from this scene. The dump truck driver put his truck back into gear, the dog was hauled off to his house, and I continued on my way. Only, my heart was beating out of my chest, my mouth was bone dry, and I was shaky.
It would have been nice if the guy had said something like, “I’m sorry.”
I missed the end of Dean Hollerith’s sermon.
I stuffed my ear buds in my pocket and headed home, thinking about why I am afraid of dogs.