I remember old Mr. Sullivan, walking down a former country road with his ancient dog and a bottle sticking out of the brown bag in his overcoat pocket. Rain or shine. Winter or summer. Same heavy overcoat. Same aging dog. The same route. Different bottles. Talking to anyone he encountered – and to himself when he was alone.
He was alone a lot, even with other people around. His home, or rather the place where he had a room and a bed, was his daughter’s house. In the little bit of time he spent there he found himself surrounded by his daughter’s over-solicitous smothering, the grandkids’ noise, toys and television, and his son-in-law’s dutiful grunts as he negotiated kids, honey-do’s and dinner before settling into an easy chair in front of an evening’s television therapy.
In the old country of his memories: his wife is dead, his children moved to America, his friends and neighbors dispersed from towns, parishes and pubs to “communities” and duty-bound children. The lucky ones, writing him in increasingly shaky scripts, remained in their homes, walking their fields, roads and villages just a bit more slowly than they’d done most of their lives. True, the population was younger, but he remembered himself as a young man chatting with the old ones in the towns and pubs. One season’s growth usually overlapped the next season’s by some undefined period of time.
Uprooted from his native turf and transplanted across an ocean into a greenhouse of suburban cul-de-sacs circling to nowhere, he walked til he found roads to somewhere. Past the freshly-sprouted shopping malls and fields paved over for parking he found a few of the old towns that used to be the only towns.
He found himself in these towns. Mom and pop businesses hanging on by the loyalty of their dwindling patrons, people whose days were built on relationships rather than transactions, living lives instead of schedules. Pubs were in his past, but the owner of the Formica diner looked the other way when Sullivan sweetened his coffee from his pocket. And occasionally he’d join the shrinking group of old guys at the front window table as they solved the problems of the universe and traded lies about their exploits in better days.
I moved on in my life, to another place. Construction changed the old one-and-a-half lane road to four lanes. His dog died. The old towns sprouted art galleries, ice cream shops and martial arts studios. When Sullivan could no longer walk, they planted him in a wheelchair, where he fertilized himself. At some point they planted him.
In foreign soil.