‘Puter’s an early riser. He routinely wakes between 04:30 and 05:00 without the assistance of an alarm. He loves the wee, small hours of the morning when the whole wide world is fast asleep. ‘Puter often uses this time to walk for an hour or more around his little Upstate village. ‘Puter treasures his pre-dawn walks, especially at this time of year. Especially at this time of his life.
This time of year, the darkness lingers a bit longer each morning as if the sun, like Mrs. P, struggles to shake off its sleep and fights the temptation to remain in its warm bed just below the southeastern horizon.
Some mornings ‘Puter can see his breath fog in the crisp, dry air in the oddly orange glow of the streetlights. ‘Puter sees his brash rabbit friends doing brash rabbit things. ‘Puter wonders where the fox and her kits which roamed the neighborhood earlier this year have gone. ‘Puter startles a large buck, somewhere between 8 and 12 points. Its tail goes up and ‘Puter watches the massive beast disappear into a neighbor’s bushes.
During ‘Puter’s walk, the sky slyly transforms from inky blackness to midnight blue, from midnight blue to periwinkle, and, just before the sun peeks over the sky’s rim, from periwinkle to burnt orange.
Geese move overhead, low and slow, complaining loudly to one another as they gather before leaving town for warmer climes. The geese remind ‘Puter of local old people huddled together in diners at this early hour, talking loudly to each other about their winter plans in Florida.
The maples are losing some of their summer green turning a barely noticeable shade or two less vibrant, a prelude to their coming display of gaudy yellows, reds, and oranges. Nature’s starting its annual descent into death.
‘Puter walks on contemplating it all.
‘Puter thinks of his two boys, the youngest of whom he dropped at college this year. Tablet’s starting a new, adult phase of his life. Laptop’s preparing for graduation this winter and grad school next year. ‘Puter wonders how he managed to create two good, normal, functional young men. He decides it’s mostly Mrs. P’s doing. ‘Puter wonders what their futures will bring, what they accomplish, who they will marry. ‘Puter walks on.
‘Puter thinks of Mrs. P who’s preparing for a new school year, new annual cycle. ‘Puter frets about the new, empty nest phase Mrs. P and he have recently entered wondering when and if they will rediscover each other. He silently prays they will. ‘Puter wonders if Mrs. P is similarly worried. He resolves to ask her as he walks on.
‘Puter thinks of his father passing the time in a memory care facility blissfully unaware he’s unaware as the hours and days pass in an incoherent blur. Is Dad happy? Why won’t he die so Mom can be free? Dad’s already gone, God. Why do you let him live on? What are you trying to teach me?
‘Puter thinks of his mother dutifully visiting Dad each day. She spends hours with him. They seem happy together even though Dad has no idea who Mom is. Mom tells herself and everyone who will listen that Dad still knows who she is. Mom is lying to herself. Or maybe she knows something ‘Puter doesn’t. They sit together, Mom talking and Dad listening. At least he seems to be listening. Dad can’t really talk much anymore. Just short, nonsensical phrases. And yet Mom is there every day, uncomplaining, happy, caring. Is this why Dad lives, God? Is it so I can see what true, Christlike love is, what it means, and what it does?
‘Puter thinks of his recent 50th birthday, grimly realizing he’s likely lived more than half his life. What is he going to do with what time he’s got left? What difference has his life really made? What difference can he still make? Is there time? ‘Puter wonders.
A car passes. ‘Puter snaps of his contemplation.
The sun has risen. ‘Puter is home. He walks up his driveway and into his house, picking up the plastic-bagged newspaper en route, burdened with more questions and fewer answers than when he left.