So, the latest news from New Jersey is that Beth and Harper had a great time in Manhattan. Apparently Harper had already been to the city three or four times during his training and was unfazed by the throngs at the Port Authority; then he led Beth on a walk in Central Park, and had no problem threading himself and Beth through the holiday crowds on the sidewalks. Also, Beth had another friend visit at school today, and that means more Harper photos, one which I’ll post here.
But enough about Beth. Have I told you about me lately? I just got back from dropping Hanni off with Steven and Nancy at her new home in Urbana. I left last night after work, thinking I’d lucked out with weather. It was warmer than it’s been in awhile, and no snow or rain. Except with the warmth came a thick fog from the downstate snow cover, and visibility was next to nil for some stretches. But it’s not what you’d call a challenging drive (can you say straight and flat?), and I have driven that trip — literally — hundreds of times.
I was raised in a Chicago suburb, but Champaign-Urbana feels like my home town. That’s where I really grew up. I went to college there at the University of Illinois. I met Beth there. Most of my friends — to this day — are connected in some way to my time in C-U. Gus was born there. My big sister Kris — who has helped me stay relatively sane through the years — lives there with her husband Ed, and Kris’s handsome son Aaron lives there with his photographer wife Joanna and their three kids, who are the cutest kids on earth.
The university is at the center of life in C-U, and why not: It’s full of whip-smart people doing remarkable things. People like the late physicist John Bardeen — a two-time Nobel Laureate (once for the transistor, once for the theory of superconductivity). Writers like Richard Powers and our wonderful friend Jean Thompson — if you haven’t read her, you should. And you’re looking at this blog thanks to the University of Illinois — where Mosaic, the first graphical Web browser, was developed. Let’s just say the U of I is one of the grandest of the grand land-grant institutions in the land.
Some of the best people in town don’t have a thing to do with university life. Two of them are our friends Steven and Nancy. Steven’s the head of a local arts group, and Nancy’s a nurse practitioner. They live in a sweet place on the edge of town in Urbana, and we’ve visited and stayed there — with Hanni — several times over the past few years.
All of which is why, despite my growing sense of dread over the days leading up to last night, delivering Hanni to her new home was not a sad ordeal. OK, OK, I almost broke down into mush while packing her squeak toys, food, doggie bed, and other paraphernalia. But driving south felt like I was driving her home.
When we got to Steven and Nancy’s house, Hanni got excited and pulled me to their front door. When it opened, I unhooked her leash and she pranced around like she owned the place. I brought her stuff in from the car and Hanni watched intently as I ceremonially handed the big bag of dog food to Steven, and she followed him as he stowed it away. Next, he placed her ratty old dog bed next to an easy chair. By now, Hanni was on her back having her belly scratched by Nancy. Minutes later, Hanni was lying in her bed, surrounded by squeak toys while the three of us humans enjoyed libations.
When it was time for bed, Steven took Hanni out for her last constitutional. Back in the house, he gave her her goodnight treat. I headed for bed, and so did Hanni — she followed Steven and Nancy and slept in their room. As if it had always been that way.
The night before — on her last night in Chicago — I took Hanni for a long walk. Only instead of heading south to the park, I took her into the teeth of downtown. On her old routes with Beth. At Madison Street, she stopped, looked at me, and pulled me west, toward the Ogilvie train station that she and Beth have been to countless times. On the way home, as we passed Sears Tower (yeah, I know it’s Willis Tower, but I’m not doin’ it), she pulled me to the entrance door. That’s where Beth goes for office meetings once a week. I scratched her head and we went along on our way.
As we neared home, we stopped with a huddle of others, all bundled up on a snowy Chicago evening, on their way home from work. As we waited for the light to change, a
woman in front of me bent down, looked Hanni in the face and said, “You are one beautiful city dog.”
That woman was absolutely right, but not anymore. Now Hanni’s one beautiful Urbana dog.