Unexpected Visitor

Unexpected Visitor

Jacques We had an unexpected visitor yesterday — it was early, about seven, and I was making tea when my dogs rushed the back fence, barking. I went out to shush them because it was early, we have neighbors — and who did I see on the far side of my back gate but Jacques!

I let him in and looked down the alley, but there wasn’t any sign of the Mighty Hunter. That was weird. So after I got the three of them to stop barking, I got on the phone. Jacques has been known to go on walkabout every once in a while, and apparently that’s what he’d done. We don’t know if he got following some of the many folks on the levee who had come down to watch the bridge collapse, or what, but somehow he went from the MH’s house on Tenth Street all the way across town to mine on C street — there are some big streets to cross along the way.

I have to admit, he did look, well, hangdog about it all. He sat in my kitchen looking like he’d had a slightly larger adventure than he’d meant to — I knew how he felt. When I was about seven, and Patrick was five (were we really that little? we didn’t feel like we were that little, we felt like perfectly capable people) we were stupendously bored. We lived on a farm then, and we’d been away for much of the summer so we couldn’t find our bikes, and the woods were full of mosquitos, and our parents were busy. So we decided we’d walk to Gigi and Shelley’s farm to play with them. It was always fun there. They had a pool. So we sneaked out the end of the driveway and started walking. It was August. It was hot. What took seven or eight minutes to drive was really far away. We got all the way to the corner where you turned off our road to go over to the one they lived on, probably 3 miles or so, when we gave up. We stuck out our thumbs and decided to hitchhike like the hippies we’d seen on TV (this was the early 70s). Of course, when that big, low-slung American car screeched to a halt we dove into the weeds. Suddenly it all seemed a little scary, especially when a heavy-set black lady came wading into the ditch to retrieve us. What are you two doing out here? she scolded. Where’s your parents? Where do you live? I’m going to give your mother a piece of my mind for letting the two of you out here on the side of this road. Anyone could pick you up. What are you thinking? Patrick and I looked at eachother and I lied. I told her we lived at Gigi and Shelleys. I knew that their mom wouldn’t be as mad at us as ours would be, and maybe we’d get to go swimming. So this nice lady and her son, who was driving, took us to the H’s house. When Mrs. H. came out, she looked at the two of us, in this car with these strangers, who were black (it was not a colorblind society that I grew up in) and sent us into the kitchen. The woman who picked us up just laid into Mrs. H, who was sputtering that she wasn’t our mom, and that yes, she thought we’d made an unwise decision. Mr. H came out as well, and with his famous Australian charm managed to calm this nice, apoplectic woman down. We sat in the kitchen, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, knowing that despite the awe with which Gigi and Shelley were currently looking at us, we were in such big trouble.

That’s sort of how Jacques looked sitting in my kitchen yesterday morning. He was panty. He was a little freaked out. He seeemed very releived to be back inside a yard he knew, with his packmates. The MH left him with me all day as he had a tile job anyhow, and Jacques and I had a long discussion, much like that one in the H’s kitchen 35 years ago, about how he is always welcome at my house, but he has to tell someone where he’s going, and he can’t cross all those big streets by himself.

3 thoughts on “Unexpected Visitor

  1. That’s a wonderful story, both the return of Jacques and especially the memory it triggered. It left me wanting the hear more. How did your parents react in the end? What must it have been like for the woman who picked you up to go confront your alleged parents, knowing it was the right thing to do, but also knowing you lived in a racist society?

    As for Jacques’s story, I suppose we’ll never know.

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  2. I love that story! I often wonder what my dog would do if he went on a walkabout. I was thinking about this over the weekend and wondering if he would just take our usual walk around the neighborhood…same streets, same houses, same fenceposts, same telephone poles, and get home much faster than the usual 40 minutes because he didn’t have me holding him back. Of course he wouldn’t. He’d explore and sniff and meet and greet. He might take an alternate route to a friend’s house where he hasn’t visited for a few weeks. Amusing to think of him diligently sticking to the route, though.

  3. As I remember, our dad came to pick us up, with the phrase “I had to come because your mother would have killed you.” It was toward the end of their marriage and is actually one of the nicest memories of my dad sticking up for us. We were Bad. We had a big adventure. But we’d scared ourselves to the extent it was clear we weren’t going to do it again.
    As for the black lady — what can I say? Even though I grew up in Chicago, one of the most racist cities around, that lady had an authority that no one questioned. Her son drove us into the H’s farm, which was like ours, an upper-class hobby farm, fueled by the true fire of righteous indignation. What were these priveleged people doing letting their kids wander out on the highway like that?
    I might have grown up in a racist environment — but those indignant black women were all that kept a lot of us from total neglect. They fed us all after school and kept us in line and watched over us if not with love, then with something like very affectionate exasperation.
    When my novel came out, the H’s had a big party that night for my mother’s 60th birthday. Patrick and I came in beforehand, because we were staying there, and there was Lloyd, setting up the bar. Lloyd is a gorgeous, older Jamacian man who had known the two of us since we were toddlers. He took one look at Patrick and said “You *are* putting a jacket on for your mother’s party, aren’t you?” with that inflection that only an older, Carribean black man who has known you since you were in short pants can use. Patrick stood up straight and said, “Of course Lloyd.” As though he were four. As though it was his first grownup party. When my girlfriends agonized over having nannies, I didn’t get it. My generation would never have survived without all those tough housekeepers looking over us all. Who else would have provided cookies while telling us, in no uncertain terms, to behave ourselves?

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