A New Trick for an Old Dog

A New Trick for an Old Dog
Guest Post from Joe Hartlaub

As you read this, I was supposed to be somewhere in Antarctica. However, the best laid plans … (Details at the end of this post, if you’re interested.) I’m delighted that Joe Hartlaub had agreed to cover one of my scheduled posts, and I’m not going to cdeprive you of his words of wisdom simply because I’m in town. I hope the arm I twisted to get him to appear has healed by now. To regulars here at TKZ, he needs no introduction. Joe, the stage is yours.

Photo by Jakob Rosen, Unsplash

Good day. I am, thanks to Terry Odell, momentarily back on the side of the TKZ equation that I inhabited for quite some time. Terry graciously asked me to perform the nigh-impossible task of filling in for her while she traverses the Antarctic. I hope you’ll join me in wishing Terry a safe journey and return.

I am writing this during the early days of 2022. My practice when I transition from the end of one year to the beginning of another is to take stock of myself by deciding what the best thing was that I did during the preceding year. It is a subjective call, of course. Sometimes it takes me a while to suss it out, and not always because there are a plethora of choices. 2021 was different.

I have for several years told S., my granddaughter, that if she ever found herself in a bad situation and could not reach her father she should call me 24/7/365. I promised her that I would either do a “one riot, one Ranger” act or send the cavalry if I could not come myself. She called me in 2021, a few minutes after midnight on Sunday, September 12. She had gone to Cincinnati with the family of one of her girlfriends. I won’t go into great detail other than to say that what was supposed to have been a fun weekend at a Dead & Company concert and a night at a downtown hotel went FUBAR. S. instead found herself sitting in a van on a concert facility parking lot after midnight in a city she had never previously been to, about two hours away from home. Her dad was working and couldn’t be reached. She accordingly called me.

I was backing out of my driveway a few minutes after receiving her call. I hadn’t gone to bed after having been up since 5 AM the previous morning taking happy birthday calls and answering good wishes. A quiet internal voice of self-doubt asked me if, having just turned age 70, I was up to the task.    It had been quite a long time — years, decades actually — since I had been pulled an all-nighter for any reason. Another internal voice —this one much louder — quickly reminded me of some wisdom imparted by Brother John Gilstrap in this space several years ago: when failure is not an option, success is guaranteed. The voice of self-doubt slipped away, though it still muttered in the background for a few miles.

A number of scenarios of the “if this, then that/Plan B” sort kept skipping across my imagination as I drove south on I-71. Staying awake and attentive was accordingly not a problem. Keeping to the speed limit was, but I forced myself to utilize cruise control. Traffic on the interstate was almost non-existent and there was little to distract me otherwise.

I arrived at a parking lot at the outskirts of the Queen City — just a few miles from the house where my father was raised in Covington, Kentucky  — two hours and an eternity later.  S., looking all of fourteen going on twenty-seven, was standing under a light looking a bit stunned but okay. I got out of my car and we looked at each other for a moment. I don’t think that anyone in my entire life had ever been happier to see me. I embraced her as she sobbed and said, “You came.” “Of course,”  I said. “I promised I would.” The individual responsible for the situation was standing nearby, wisely out of arms-length. He looked surprised as well. I think he was under the impression that I wasn’t coming.  I learned then that I had finally reached the age where wisdom had taken hold, a new trick for an old dog. Twenty or even ten years ago I might have administered some swift and rough justice. The present me simply glared at him as I held the car door for my granddaughter. A couple of minutes later I started to retrace the trip I had just made, leaving the instigator standing in the lot like the lost soul that he was and is.

Photo by Adam Mescher, Unsplash

Ohio is almost entirely rural for eighty miles or so between Kings Island Amusement Park north of Cincinnati and the lights of the warehouses and auto malls in suburban south Columbus. We were blessed with a dark but clear night. A sprinkling of stars lit the way through what looked like an endless tunnel. S., a city kid, had never seen a sky tableau that black. I alternated between pointing out some constellations and listening as she told me everything that had happened and what had led to her calling me. It was frightening for her, but the worst of it was some emotional damage inflicted by an adult she had trusted. Her account of the night was soundtracked by Alice in Chains, The Police, Nirvana, and a bit of Slipknot as we repeatedly passed and were passed by a three-car convoy, the drivers eyeing us suspiciously each time we went by each other in the very early morning as the pitch-colored sky ahead became lighter by minute degrees.

I asked S. as we approached the lights of Columbus if she were hungry. “Yes,” she said, “but I can wait until we get home.”

I let a beat go by. “Sheetz (a chain of fast-food restaurants disguised as gas stations) is open.”

“It IS?!” she said. Her excitement was a good sign. We drove to the one closest to my home and spent a half-hour inside before exiting with a large bag full of goodies, none of which will ever be found on a list approved by WW. Sheetz, let it be known, makes everything better. By the time we got home around 6 AM, everything was either good or getting there.

So. I had the opportunity to keep a promise and kept it while stopping a bad situation from possibly coming much worse, perhaps irrevocably so. I was able to exercise good judgment and made a nodding acquaintance with its cousin restraint. S.  learned several lessons, chief among them being that there are people in her life (in addition to her father) who will keep their promises to her, just as she needs to be dependable and keep her own promises to herself and others. She also received a couple of instructions in astronomy. I learned for my part that a promise kept to a loved one is not an obligation, a duty, or a requirement. It’s a privilege. An act of love may not make up for a legion of sins committed over the course of a lifetime but the multitude it covers will make a dent.

Lessons here? Sure. Show up every day, every minute. When you make a promise to write and you don’t do it you are letting yourself down, not to mention whoever would have benefited in however many ways by reading your efforts. You’re never too old to start until it’s too late. It’s not too late today.

Thank you for reading this far and not turning away when you realized that Terry would be absent. In the meanwhile…what is the best thing that you did in 2021 that you care to share?

Why is Terry in Colorado, not Antarctica? Read it here.

Joe Hartlaub is a contributor emeritus to The Kill Zone. He is an attorney, author, actor, consultant, and raconteur with over forty years of experience in causing and solving problems. Joe lives in Westerville, Ohio, where he rattles with purpose around his house.


27 thoughts on “A New Trick for an Old Dog

  1. Wow, Joe, S is a fortunate young woman. There’s no doubt her devoted grandfather would jump in front of a bullet for her. Over the years, every time you write about her, it’s clear you’re schooling her how to survive, thrive, and be strong in this crazy world.

    Best thing I did in 2021? Be with my dear friend of 30+ years as she died then do what I could to comfort her family afterward.

    • Thanks, Deb. Your 2021 topped mine. There is no higher calling than comforting the dying and those left behind.

  2. Thanks for sharing that, Joe. I was so touched. And I know that this is something that S. will remember all the rest of her life. Awesome!

  3. Good morning, Joe. It’s great to see you here!

    Wow, what a story, and what a wonderful grandfather. S is indeed a lucky young woman to have you in her life. You have earned a special position of trust, and I bet she’ll always trust your advice and judgement.

    Best thing I did in 2021: retiring from a job/occupation that kept me from being there for my family. Being able to wake each morning and decide what is really important for that day has been a real blessing. Having real time to write has been the icing on the cake.

    I hope 2022 is a wonderful year for you. And I hope your granddaughter continues to listen to her wise grandfather.

    • Good morning, Steve. Thanks for your kind words. Your patients’ loss is your family’s gain. Your patients may find another doctor, but your family will never have another you. Enjoy!

  4. I love this post so much, Joe. You are a terrific grandfather, and your love and devotion to your grand daughter shines through. Being there for someone, family or friend, when the chips are down, that’s when it really matters.

    Best thing I did in 2021? When our dear friend R., a two-time lymphoma survivor, died of complications from a brain tumor in August, we decided we would be there for her husband B., also a very dear friend, and we’ve had him over weekly ever since for dinner and a movie. He and I stay in touch via text each day, and he knows he can call, message, etc, any time, and that he can grieve with us for his beloved wife whenever and however he needs to.

    • Thank you, Dale, for your compliments and sharing your story. You got me on that one, partner. You are doing B. a world of good even if he never calls you. Sometimes just knowing that there is someone there who cares is enough.

  5. Such a heartwarming story with a beautiful message, Joe. It’s SO nice to see you on the other side of TKZ! Your story touched me on a deep personal level. When I was a teenager, I had no one to call to save me. Oh, how I would’ve loved to have someone like you in my life. S. is a lucky girl. (Getting emotional, sorry) Anyway, since that time I’ve tried to be a person my mother would be proud of. Some days I succeed, some days I fail, but I always show up. Always. Big hugs to you, SJ!

    • Thanks, Sue. I have to tell you…if I could go back in time I would find you and be your guy to call and to show up, the way that you do. Hugs back!

  6. Thank you for this, Joe. Your granddaughter is a very fortunate young woman, and I am so glad you kept your promise and were there for her.

    My cousin Joan was my best friend in childhood. She and I were the only two girl cousins in a passel of boys, and we spent many weekends misadventuring on her grandparents’ farm in rural Georgia.

    Joan is in a retirement home now. She has many serious health issues, but we talk on the phone frequently and laugh at the foolishness of our youth.

    When I decided to dedicate my last book to my dear friend and cousin, I didn’t have to look far to find the new characters for my series. Reen and Joanie walked onto the pages of my novel fully formed, and a story that includes the joys of childhood friendship was published in 2021.

  7. Thank you, Kay. What a story. Folks in retirement homes often feel forgotten because…well, sometimes they are. It’s wonderful that you can continue to be a blessing in your cousin’s life, to the point of immortalizing her. Bless you.

  8. Joe, my hat’s off to you. What a grampa! They should bottle you and sell you to every child in the world.

    The best thing I did in 2021? Well . . . I was sort of involved. My daughter became a grandmother. So I had a little to do with it-the birth of my first great-grandchild. His name is Wesley and he’s the cutest babe ever.

    And, BTW, we’re both way too young-I’m 67 and she’s 46, but we absolutely love being called Grammies!

    Have a great day, and thanks again for your wonderful story.

    • Thank you, Deb. You’re very kind. And you had EVERYTHING to do with becoming a great-grandmother. Wesley at the moment is the luckiest kid on earth. Congrats!

  9. “what is the best thing that you did in 2021 that you care to share?”

    I uploaded 3 preprints to ResearchGate in 2021:
    March: The Guardienne Hypothesis and Deja Vu;
    July: Cerebral Dualism and the Guardienne’s Roles in Alcoholism, Addiction, and Relapse;
    December: The Guardienne and Creativity.

    • J. Guenther, congratulations. That is something that I will never do. You’re the second person I know who has been listed there. The first is my younger daughter. I’m looking forward to more from both of you.

  10. Since today is Doctor Seuss’ birthday, here’s a quote from HORTON HATCHES AN EGG that I’ve lived by my whole life. “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. You can trust an elephant’s word one hundred percent.”

  11. I may need to take some restraint lessons, Joe. Living in L.A. these past two years has definitely tested the ol’ limits. In light of that, the best times in 2021 were taking the grandboys to the park where they could run around, maskless, as God intended.

  12. Your 2021 in the way you described was twice as good as mine was, Jim. Those fellas are lucky to have you in that place and time. Thanks for sharing.

  13. What a wonderful post, Joe. S. is one lucky young lady to have you as her grand dad. I’m of the old school that a promise is a contract. I’m not sure I would have shown the restraint you did in such close proximity to the initiator. Your way was better.

    The best thing I did in 2021 was likewise a privilege. We’ve been nursing our son back to health after a bad accident at work. It’s been a long 15 weeks, but he’s walking again and his prognosis is great.

  14. Thank you, John. That’s high praise coming from someone who sounds like a miracle worker. Your son is double fortunate to you and your wife as parents, not only for the caring but also for the skill sets. Prayers for his full recovery.

  15. You’re a jewel, Joe. Not only for the restraint, but for being a positive male role model in her life that she can count on. Sadly, not every young girl has one. S. is lucky to have you on the other end of the line.

  16. Would that there more men like you, Joe. Bless you for being there for her!
    The best thing I did in 2021 was to survive it. 2022 ain’t lookin’ a lot better. Just lost a dear friend to Covid tonight..

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