The Way Home

The Way Home

From Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

The Way Home

There is no such thing as one’s own good. Goodness is mutual, is communal; is only gained by giving and receiving.

Arnold Haultain

I’d spent the night rushing to the window every time I heard a branch fall. Now, looking out into the early morning light, the devastation was obvious. Not one tree in our rural neighbourhood in Kingston, Ontario, had been left untouched. Jagged branches lay everywhere. The Great Ice Storm of January 1998 was upon us.

The house had an eerie silence: no hum from the furnace, no buzz from the refrigerator, no morning news blasting from the TV. All the clocks were frozen at 10:49 P.M.

Alex and I were fumbling around in the basement with a shared flashlight, trying to find our camping stove. We needed coffee—some sense of our morning ritual to start the day. I heard the screen door open, then a timid knock. Doris Lee, our closest neighbour, had somehow managed to make her way through the maze of ice, wood and downed power lines, to arrive at our door. She looked anxious.

“Have you seen Harold and Prince?”

Our property backs onto a wooded area, and every morning we would watch Doris’s husband Harold with Prince, his golden Lab, ramble off down the trail. Prince trotted quietly on the lead and always brought Harold home safely. Harold had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease the previous summer. Doris had been adamant about maintaining their life together and trying to keep things as normal as possible. However, she hadn’t reckoned on an ice storm.

“I was upstairs, looking for batteries for the radio, when I heard the door close. Harold is so used to his routine, I just couldn’t stop him from taking Prince out.”

Alex rushed to pull on his coat as he asked, “How long have they been gone?” Doris hesitated. “About half an hour. I didn’t want to bother you, and Prince is usually so good about finding his way home.”

Alex looked at me. I turned to Doris and said, “You go home. I’ll be right over. I’m going to find our camping stove. I’ll bring it over, and we’ll make some coffee while Alex finds Harold. They’ll want a warm drink when they get home.”

Doris turned and headed back to her house while Alex sprinted across the yard toward the woods. I finally found the stove, and, making my way across the icy war zone, I arrived safely at Doris’s home.

She and I waited in her kitchen. I made the coffee, but Doris didn’t even notice. She stood by the sink staring out into the yard, her cup untouched. I sat at her table, reading all the carefully printed notes she had placed around the kitchen—beside the stove, the light switch, the electric kettle—to remind Harold to turn off or unplug things. There were also notes on the refrigerator door, mapping out a daily routine for Harold: walk the dog, eat breakfast, wash. Doris had done everything possible to make life easier for Harold. Now she turned from the sink and walked over to the table.

“Prince always brings him home, you know,” she said softly.

I wanted to say something to comfort her but I felt unqualified. I was just beginning to understand the burden Doris dealt with on a daily basis. Instead, we simply waited together quietly. An eternity seemed to pass before I finally saw Alex coming across our yard. He was carrying Harold’s beloved golden Lab in his arms. Harold was walking behind him, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“Prince was hit by a falling branch,” Alex explained. “Get some towels or blankets. He’s alive but he must be in shock. He’s been bleeding from that cut over his eye.”

We covered Prince with blankets, and Doris coaxed Harold into dry clothes while Alex told us his story. At first he had called for Prince, thinking it would be the easiest way to find the pair. He was almost ready to turn back and get more help when he heard Harold’s voice.

“Harold was sitting on the ground comforting Prince. He’d taken off his coat and put it over the dog. It was all I could do to convince Harold to put his jacket back on.”

We sat around the kitchen table, four silent people, unable to pull our thoughts away from the dog in the corner. Prince was more than just a faithful companion. He helped care for Harold. Without him, Harold would lose his independence. We anxiously watched the pile of blankets covering the injured dog, fearing the worst. Suddenly, there was a small movement.

Alex put his hand on Harold’s shoulder. “Look, Harold, he’s waking up.”

A doggie nose popped out from under the pile of blankets. We watched Prince wiggle out and come across to the table. Harold put a trembling hand on his dog’s head. Prince gazed at him with his soft brown eyes and gave a halfhearted wag of his tail. Doris whispered a private thank-you. I looked at Alex, and the ice storm and power outage were forgotten. Until that day we hadn’t appreciated how isolated Doris and Harold were, and what a struggle they had just coping day-to-day. In that moment we decided we were going to change all that. Starting then, Prince and Doris were getting two new assistants.

Susan Owen
Kingston, Ontario

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