His mind addled by age, our old and ailing terrier rose in the dark the other morning and angled to go outside. I wasn’t happy about obliging his request, though at that dim hour, there was no one around to hear my complaint. Out in the yard under a fading moon, the dog and I had the world to ourselves.
The grass glistened with dew, and the heat had subsided, a brief break in the fever dream of July. I had time to look around, since the dog was in no hurry. Like a drunk roused from a park bench, he wandered aimlessly from shrub to shrub, waiting for a perfect spot to invite his benediction.
Our windows had fogged as the house cooled, something they do in summer. To the passing eye, the panes looked frosted. The only thing missing from the pleasant illusion of winter was a holiday wreath on the door.
My thoughts turned to Christmas. I silently wondered how we’ll bring tidings of comfort and joy to friends and neighbors while standing 6 feet apart. There’s no use worrying about Yuletide when it’s two seasons away, but the lost sleep had made me somber.
I wanted not to think at all, but my mind had already stirred from its nest, fluttering from dogs to dew to Christmas in search of a place to land. Nothing felt familiar. When I leave my bed so long before daybreak, it’s usually to go fishing or catch a flight out of town, which isn’t often. A creature of the office, I prefer the life of 9 to 5.
My father, gone these many years, lacked my luxury of choices. As a child of the farm who later worked in construction, he rose each day long before dawn because he had to, a common reality for his generation. It was no accident that former President Jimmy Carter, also a farm boy, titled his childhood memoir, “An Hour Before Daylight.”
“One of the things you have to remember is that the bell rang an hour before daylight,” Carter recalled. “We got out of bed, got a lantern … went to the barn, caught a mule or a horse assigned to us for that day …”
I thought about all of this, too, as I stood in the morning darkness and gazed at the street, which was empty as a graveyard.
Soon, a man would come and leave our newspaper at the end of the drive, one of many workers who still rise in the dark to do what needs to be done.
I brought the dog inside, made coffee and waited for the sun to arrive. It’s showing up later these days, the surest sign a curtain is slowly falling on this strange year.
I can’t say I’ll be sad to see it go.
Email Danny Heitman at firstname.lastname@example.org.