Today was trash day, which always makes me think of Mr. Dodson.
My across-the-street neighbor was the neighborhood eccentric. If you live in my neighborhood, you remember him as the elderly man (92 in fact) who rode his bicycle every day between the hours of 3:00 and 4:00. He was more faithful than the mailman in this endeavor. I once saw him ride his bike in the snow! Since we live in between two steep hills, he used to push his bicycle up the biggest one, straddle the crossbar, and coast down speedily to gain his momentum to make it over the next hill. After that he was home free for the next 58 minutes. Along the way, he spoke kindly to every person who happened to be pulling weeds, strolling a baby, or watering a lawn. We all knew him as the man who wore a vintage catcher’s mask instead of a helmet and rubber bands on the bottom of his pants legs so they wouldn’t get caught in the spokes. His hair was always wild and windblown and he smiled and smiled and smiled. From the first day we moved into this house, right before I found out I was expecting twins, he was kind to us. He raked our leaves, he brought up our mail, and he especially loved talking to the children. He would always say, “Oh my goodness. I declare, if they aren’t the prettiest things I ever saw!” The one thing he did for us without fail, every single week, was roll our empty garbage can back up the driveway on trash day. He did this for all his immediate neighbors. I always appreciated it because it was just one less thing I had to negotiate with my hands full of diaper bags, grocery sacks, and wiggly kids. Mr. Dodson was the kind of person you just assumed would always be around. He prided himself on his quirky diet, his plethora of vitamins, and his unique stretches. He also shared with us his ideas on numerology and the power of positive thinking. He meant very, very well. Early last fall, he got sick. Poppy was the first to notice that he hadn’t ridden his bike in several days. We went to check on him and he politely refused our offers of help because he said it was only a cold. We brought him dinner anyway several times that week, but I’m pretty sure he fed most of it to his dogs, whom he loved dearly. He soon discovered that he was suffering from congestive heart failure. He was advised to stop riding his bike and to make plans for long-term care. You can imagine he didn’t like that too much. We went on vacation for a week in October. When we returned home, I went to check on Mr. Dodson only to discover something terrible that I never expected. He had taken his own life two days earlier. His daughter, who was still in shock, told me the whole sad story. When Mr. Dodson realized he wasn’t going to get better, that he wouldn’t be able to ride his bike any longer, he decided it was time to move on. At first I just couldn’t believe he was gone. It seemed such a sudden end to a vibrant life. After the reality set in and I got used to the idea of him being gone, I understood why he did it. He prided himself on his vitality, his health, and his enthusiasm for life. He told me several times that he didn’t want to wither away in a nursing home. I’m sure he didn’t want to burden his daughter with having to take care of him. He probably thought it was ultimately the kindest thing he could do. His house is for sale and I’m glad it’s still vacant because I’m not quite ready to see someone else raking his leaves just yet. I think about Mr. Dodson every time I walk out my front door and look at his.
So, like I was saying, today was trash day. I walked up and down both steep hills and rolled every one of my neighbors’ garbage cans down their driveways. Though I bet they were surprised to discover someone had done this, they will without a doubt remember Mr. Dodson as they ponder who might have taken up the tradition.
P.S. Here is a picture of Mr. Dodson’s dogs who were recently placed in a loving forever home. Sara, with her lovey, is on the left. Sam, who looks distracted, is on the right.