Literary non-fiction: The Long Road Home


“The Man With a Golden Dog” by Olgierd Pstrykotwórca is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Lila Foley, Contributing writer

Picture me, maybe 3 feet tall, hair in pigtails, sparkly pink dress and headband to match, lunchbox in one hand and gripping my sister’s hand in the other.  I stand nervously at the end of my road, waiting for what seemed like a massive school bus at the time, when I see an old man making his way around the corner. With a big brown coat, shiny boots, and a black top hat, he is led by his two dogs.  Full of fluff and energy, the big, black-and-white dogs trot along while the man holds them by leash.

“Good morning,” he offers with a smile as he passes by my siblings and dad.

“Good morning,” I reply back, moments before spotting the big yellow object making its way down the road from afar.  I continue on with my day, and the man continues on with his, but little did I know at that moment that, although there wouldn’t be many constants in my life, strangely enough seeing this old man walking every morning would be one of them.

Years passed by of me growing up and learning new things about life, making it through elementary school and finally on to middle school.  With new friendships, bus rides, summers, sibling fights and so many more memories made.  Still, every morning as I got onto the school bus, this man and his dogs would be out there walking, with the same brown coat and same black hat.  Some days he would switch it up, add an extra layer, maybe a neon vest to be seen on those especially dark mornings, but that brown coat and black hat always stayed the same. He was the kind of old man that you knew would make a good grandpa, that even though your parents warn you of “stranger danger,” you just have this sense of trust that he is nothing to be worried about.  Every time I talked to him or passed by him, he always had a friendly face and smile.  His dogs were the same way, any time you got close enough to pet them they licked your face and begged to be petted before you even had time to think about it.  My mornings were chaos as a child.  My mom would have to drag me out of bed, and some mornings I was sprinting out in hopes that the bus had not yet passed.  No matter what my morning looked like though, that old man didn’t miss a day.  With his two dogs by his side, he was out there walking despite the weather.  Usually, I didn’t think much of seeing him, but sometimes I would wonder. How old is he? How far does he walk every morning? What are his dogs’ names? What is HIS name? What does he do with the rest of his days?  Why does he walk every single day? I only saw a tiny portion of his morning every day and then we went our separate ways, yet I had so many questions.

One morning, around sixth grade I remember vividly.  I was sitting near the back of the bus.  My knees were pressed up against the seat in front of me, I had my earbuds in as I gazed out the window.  I am not a morning person so every morning on the bus I would glue my head to the window and either fall back asleep or sit there trying to avoid conversation with those around me.  My eyes were pressed to the window this particular morning when I recognized that black top hat and directed my attention to the old man who had become a daily occurrence in my life.  Only this time something was different.  It was still the same old man, brown coat and black hat, yet this morning he led only one dog on his leash.  His demeanor was different too, instead of the usual joyful walk, his walk was saddened and the dog he led on the leash had its head down.  I paused, realizing what this meant.  Sadness immediately came over me.  I didn’t know this man, but I felt horrible for him.  My whole life that I could remember he had two sidekicks on his daily morning adventure, and now there was only one.  Realistically, this didn’t affect my life very much.  I didn’t know this man and I didn’t know his dogs, but the sight of this man with only one dog left a pit in my stomach.   My mornings changed from taking the bus, to catching a ride with my sister who was a senior, yet we continued to see this old man walking with his dog.

From the moment I saw that man with only one dog to now, a lot has changed.  I have grown up from a little 12-year-old girl who had no idea what was happening in the world around her, to a senior in high school, ready to make some big decisions about my life and future.   I’ve gone from a naïve girl riding the school bus every day, to a senior in high school who can finally drive to school.  The other morning as I turned off my road, I saw that brown coat and black hat I knew all too well.  The man had aged over the years, his walk had slowed, and his posture had shrunk.  Still, for hundreds of mornings year after year, our lives intertwined for a small moment each day.  As I drove down my road one recent morning, the sight of this man shocked me.  He was walking by himself.  No dog, no leashes, just the man.  My mouth physically dropped, and tears welled in my eyes.  My whole life it was the old man and his dogs, and now it was just the old man.  As I watched the man trudging forward by himself, hands in his pockets and head down, a few lonely tears dripped down my face. Not only did this sight chip away a piece of my heart, but it also led me to a big realization; I am growing up and leaving my childhood, heading into a future of uncertainty.  No matter how much I may want it to pause, life keeps moving and changing and there is nothing I, or anyone, can do about it.