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Saturday, December 10, 2011

A “Lucky” Visit in the Valley…

Decking the gateWhen I prepare for a walk in the Valley these cold December days of fog and darkness, it’s almost like I’m dressing for an assault on the North Pole. The other day I was layered up, capped and mittened, lumbering my way down the Valley, when I saw a large, gray Dodge Ram pickup idling at the end of the driveway of the old MaGee residence and thought to myself, “Ah, the OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY!”

Back in September The Ripple did an exclusive report on some intimidating signage posted either side of the chain link fence at that property (“Not a Good Sign,” 9/14). A few days later the sign’s message was validated when two large Great Dane-like hounds bounded to a stop next to the four foot fence and voiced their disapproval of the pedestrian strolling by. Since that day whenever I approach the corner afoot, I steel my ears against a sudden, thunderous barking, my pulse rate ramps up, and my hand readies near the pocket that carries a canister of pepper spray (vestige of the “dog days” of Johnny Deck).

As days passed, I noticed other subtle changes signifying a new occupancy. A metal gate now barred the driveway. Two new signs picturing large dogs were wired to that gate. A few days later, an American flag waved from a newly installed flagpole. Beneath it rippled a faded red flag bearing the emblem of the U. S. Marine Corps.

If anything, The Ripple is fair; just as there are two sides to a fence, there are two sides to a story. September 14th The Ripple only reported one side—the street story--and behind the wheel of the big pickup was the other story, the house side of the fence. Gladys and I wheeled up to driver’s side for the full disclosure, balance the bias, so to speak.

When he sees the old codger on a girl’s bike parked beside his truck, the driver gives me a quizzical look and powers down the window. “Just wanted to welcome the new neighbors to the Valley,” I say, introduce myself, and extend my hand. A large, meaty palm swallows mine. I see I’m welcoming a big man, a fellow built for that big truck. “Lucky Garcia,” he replies. “Ah, an Irishman,” I joke. Lucky smiles an easy, comfortable smile, the type of smile that is unsure of itself at first, but when it makes up its mind, quickly consumes the face with enough force to lift a chin. And Lucky smiles often…a good “sign,” I think, my mind on those other signs.

I ease into the conversation by sharing some of the history of the house on the corner…our old friends, the MaGees…that Garth and I were both teachers…how their house was flooded in 1990 and raised three feet the following year…the boulders Garth set at the corner to protect his new chain link fence from the aggressive drivers who failed to negotiate the turn….the oyster bakes we used to have on their outdoor barbeque. Lucky has done some research himself; much of what I tell him, excepting the oyster feeds, of course, is not new information.

And the “Semper Fi” flag? The Valley has a Gulf War  veteran (the “First” Gulf War, Lucky informs me), living among us now. Apparently service to one’s country runs in Lucky’s family: his son (one of five children) has just finished his second deployment in Afghanistan. (Dad and son both hold the same rank; a belated thanks to them for their service.)

During this idle banter, I’m withholding the question I’ve wanted to ask all along, the real reason I rolled up in the welcome wagon: those big dogs with the pointy ears. I motion toward the signs: “So tell me about your dogs.” I was right about the breed: “Yeah, they’re Great Danes, Lucky says. What I didn’t know is the Garcias have four. Lucky must have only sent out his first string to greet me that day. I gaze down the long side of that big crew cab Dodge Ram…four Great Danes…must have to haul dog food by the ton. Lucky reassures me his dogs are no threat (just as all guns are not loaded, I think). But yet there are those signs again…and sixteen long legs…and that short fence…. When I learn one of the four has had special training to guard and protect, I make a mental note to keep my wits about me and my pocket armed when I’m afoot near that corner.

By this time we are on familiar enough terms for me to share my first impressions with the new neighbor: the “Beware of Dog” signs, the gated driveway, flagpole flying the American flag and the “Semper Fi” insignia beneath, all the markings of an armed camp. “Are you afraid to live here in the Valley?” I ask. “No,” Lucky replies as that smile eases into his face, tilts his chin: “We moved here from San Diego.”


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  1. Well, now that sounds promising! I love Danes. I think really it's a combined love for dogs & horses & horse-like dogs. Sounds like you can let your pepper spray rest when you pass the corner. Whew.

  2. Great Danes, eh? Well, it seems to me I once read a message on a certain t-shirt....