I followed Joan from the doctor's office to scheduling where Walter checked us out. They began their familiar dance of friendly flirtation -- he charming the older woman, she putting on the coquettish airS of a young southern belle. "You're wearing pink today," she purrs. "Yes, I am," he winks.
"I don't suppose I can get you down here at 7:45 in the morning?" he asks, consulting his computer. Joan and I both laugh. "She's not exactly a morning person," I explain. "She's the only person I know you can call anytime of night and she will answer. So, if you ever want to call..."
"Hi, this is Walter," he says in a creepy voice.
"Yeah, maybe you don't want to call," I said.
"Where are you from again?" Walter asks Joan. "Warren?"
"Up near Sugarbush," she replies.
"Are you from there, too?" he asks.
"No, Bethel," I respond.
"I used to live in Bethel. River Street," he says. "Where in Bethel do you live?"
"I live at my parents," I say, "John Gifford," remembering that Walter used to work with my father years ago at Sears.
"Oh, sorry I didn't place you," he apologizes. "So, how do you two know each other?" And, there it is...the moment I explain Joan. I could just answer friend, because that is true. But I give the answer that is most obvious and also makes Walter raise an eyebrow. "She's my pugs' breeder," I say.
"You don't know what images that conjures," he says.
"I went looking for a pug 15 years ago. I met her and we've been friends every since," I elaborate. That is the truth, but it leaves out so much. A trip out west stuffed into a van with three other passengers and Joan's tales of her life to keep us awake as we drive through the desert. Heading into a hurricane to travel to pug nationals, getting quarantined at another pug nationals because of a virus that spread through the attendees, births and deaths. Staying up all night trying to keep a litter of puppies alive by feeding them goat's milk and when all seemed lost, Vodka. Losing them anyway. Aggravation, laughter, adventure. Driving all night half awake to arrive at a Dunkin Donuts only to have Joan bring out stale, dried up biscuit for us to share -- "I brought some dried biscuits," she announced. "And, I erupted in a spiel of contagious laughter that she caught and left us clenching our bellies as we guffawed through the night. Joan is old enough to be my mother and yet we are the best of friends -- kindred spirits in many ways -- not least of which is the fact that she is only person I know who I can call anytime of night just to chat or tell her the cute thing your dog has done.