Since I retired at the beginning of 2011, our black miniature poodle Toto has been the one constant of my mornings. For the first three years that Anne Mei was at Princeton High School, I would try to leave my bedroom quietly so that Toto would stay asleep until I had finished making Anne Mei’s breakfast and lunch. If I was lucky, Toto would not come down until just before it was time to take Anne Mei to school. Then, I could take Toto out to do her business while we waited for Anne Mei to come down to the parking garage. This past year Toto has been getting up when I get up and not able to hold it as long as she used to. So I’ve been taking her out between the time I’ve finished making breakfast and lunch and 7:00 am when Anne Mei gets up.
After delivering Anne Mei to school, Toto and I go for a longer walk around Palmer Square in Princeton. Our apartment opens directly on to a small plaza about three levels up from the street. While several new multistory buildings were under construction right across from our front door, there was a chain link fence about ten feet from the bottom of our steps separating us from the construction zone. Toto and I were forced to head towards Chambers Street to get downstairs. If the steps down to street level were too slippery in the winter, we could take an elevator, when it was working. Now that construction is finished, Toto and I have three options: head straight down the long open stair case to Paul Robeson Place, go right to get to the fountain plaza on Hulfish Street, or left towards Chambers Street.
Most mornings Toto and I go down to Hulfish Street so that we can walk around the lovely park in Palmer Square. For the past year we’ve been missing our friend Don. After having coffee with a group of his retired buddies, Don used to drive his car over to Palmer Square and park. He would smoke and read his newspapers. Mostly he was there to say hello to Toto and the other dogs being walked in the morning. Don would reach out of his window and scratch their heads if they came close enough. About two years ago Don’s appearances began to become erratic. We haven’t seen him for the last year. Before he stopped coming altogether, I asked him after one of his absences if his health was ok. He gave me an evasive answer. Also, during that period I ran into Don at the local supermarket McCaffrey’s. He didn’t recognize me when I said hello because I didn’t have Toto with me. One day I’m going over to the Starbucks to see if I can find a group of retirees and ask them about Don. That requires getting up earlier.
During Anne Mei’s first two ice hockey seasons, Toto and I had to get up a little after 5:00 am to get her down to the university ice rink in time to get dressed for a 6:00 am hockey practice. I would try to catch a little sleep before having to pick her up after practice, but that never worked very well. For her last two seasons Anne Mei woke herself up and drove to practice. Toto and I would just roll over when we heard the front door closing around 5:30 am.
Getting up earlier is more of a challenge for me now. During Anne Mei’s last school year I started staying up to read or write until 12:30 or 1:00 am. After our walk around Palmer Square on school mornings when I have to get up at 6:30 am to start our routine, Toto and I lie down on the couch in the living room for a nap. Over the years I’ve become used to the many trucks parking under my window to make deliveries to Mediterra Restaurant, which is on the ground level under our apartment. Especially now that I’m staying up so late I can sleep through the noises of brakes and ramps and large doors that often start before 6:00 am. In the warm weather, however, I have a hard time napping on Mondays when the grounds crews run their lawnmowers and leaf blowers all around us all morning. They don’t seem to bother Toto who can sleep after I’ve moved over to the dining room table to read and write.
When Anne Mei leaves for college at the end of August, mornings will probably continue on their current summer schedule. Toto and I will sleep later and go out for our walks later. A different set of people will be walking to work. The garbage trucks will be emptying the trash cans along the sidewalks. The Palmer Square maintenance crews will be sweeping and watering until the weather turns and they’ll be shoveling and salting. Toto hates walking on salted sidewalks. I have to wipe her paws off when we get back. But at least we won’t be dealing with the 10 feet of snow that Anne Mei will get in Syracuse.