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Holinger: Fall leads to hobbled dog, reflections on life

The weekend before Thanksgiving, my wife, Tia, left for France to visit our daughter studying in Paris, so I gave Saturday the attention a pirate gives his map – which movies to see, which writing to finish, which Fresh Market pre-cooked feasts to savor.

Dawn evolved cold and bright. Lucky, our Bichon-Cockapoo mix, scratched on the back door. Noticing the slick deck, I remembered Tia warning me all fall, “Don’t go out back when it’s slippery; you might fall.”

Ha! Slippage happened on Slip-n-Slides, not on stairs navigated by mature husbands left in charge of the family pet.

The fuzzy football clutched under an arm, above the first stair I grabbed the railing and started down, cooing, “Little bit icy here, but –”

My feet flew out from under me. Instinctively, I reached back to break my fall, and Lucky was airborne. Hands, legs and paws swirled like a conductor’s baton accompanied by a symphony of screams and yelps. We thudded onto the stairs, where I lay beached as the misnomered dog cascaded onto the lawn.

As long as I could move, my health didn’t matter. Tia would only kill me if the dog got hurt. When no vital parts argued against it, I scrambled over to him.

“It’s gonna be OK,” I said, pretty sure it wasn’t.

Upright, he dragged one hind leg like a plow. Later, the vet’s X-rays discovered a dislocated bone. Multiple calls to Tia, strolling down the Christmas-lit Champs-Elysees, ended in a decision to forgo major surgery, opting to have the dislodged bone popped back in place.

This meant confinement, along with hobbling his two hind legs with a white three-inch bandage to prevent splaying. I cordoned off the family room Les Miz-style, my barricade a folding chaise lounge, baby fence and assorted pillows. Behind it, Un-Lucky glared at me when not sleeping off the morphine patch.

As for my take-away from the fall, one forearm looked like a musket ball lodged therein, but nothing serious. Tia assured me she’d have been sadder if something serious had happened to me instead of Lucky, but that’s a stretch; at best, I’m on par with the dog.

I spent the week doting on the dog I’d downed; we were both hobbled. I reflected on my other self-destructive tendencies, like scribbling column ideas while driving and climbing ladders to entertain neighbors with icicle lights.

When young, we dismiss caution and quote William Blake, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” Even as a newly-minted dad, I yearned to find out how far and fast a snow tube or pan would go.

The fall helped me see, at 63, I’m no longer middle-aged. I need to think about thinking, or – as poet Emily Dickinson puts it – to “ … see to see.” Good health advanced to the top of my bucket list.

I can live with that. Literally. Especially when an unhobbled imagination can still imagine a fool taking his dog down ice-slick steps, and make something like a story out of it.

• Rick Holinger has lived and taught high school in the Fox Valley for more than 30 years. His prose and poetry have appeared in several national literary journals. His forthcoming book, “Not Everybody’s Nice,” won the 2012 Split Oak Press Prose Chapbook contest. Contact him at

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