The Bel & Mel Chronicles: Nostalgia and deep breathing in an Atlanta suburb

This is Bel. She's in charge.Bel is spoiling me. Or maybe it's the other way around. These days I'm spending my time with a most elegant, regal greyhound. It's a little unusual how quickly I've become tuned in to this dog's needs.

Since her family left a couple of nights ago, I've been keenly aware of how much she misses them. Her sadness makes me sad and I'm anxious to make her happy. When I work, I'm very, very quiet - unless on a call with a client - and before they left, I was reminded that Bel is used to something different. All the doors are revolving when this family is at home, and it's clear she misses her people. And, I've decided, she misses their liveliness. So when she walks to the cabinet where her treats are kept, usually I cave. This evening I had to read the label to make sure I hadn't over-treated her. I think we're okay.

So I make up things for us to do. "Bel, let's go out and play!" If I'm lucky she'll acknowlege my voice; sometimes she even contemplates my offer. At other times she ignores me completely. Until I'm in the middle of the yard, that is, then she casually saunters to the edge of the deck to peer at me. If she decides to join me, it's a lively party outside as she retrieves the ball I throw, (or I retrieve it myself as she runs by it,) at speeds unfamiliar to me, those bred-for-racing legs frightfully fast as she blurs past me. If we collide, I'll be the one on my ass.

When I'm not indulging her dog, I entertain myself by enjoying the shopping choices of my childhood friend. And I indulge in a lot of nostalgia. Cindi and her family are traveling and I've come to keep an eye on things. By "things" I mean her dog, her garden, the fish - Blueberry and Strawberry - those silly little frogs... and her beauty products.

Have you ever noticed how - long after you've solidly earned the label "grown-up" and can make a stream of unchallenged decisions to buy whatever you like with your hard-earned money - other people's buying choices always seem to be infinitely superior to your own? I notice it sometimes when I'm house-sitting, and last night it hit me again just how easily pleased I was to not only be enjoying my friend's deep garden tub with those muscle-relaxing jets, but of all things, her skin and hair-care products. I mean, people, it's face wash!It's shampoo!!!Still, hers is better than mine. All those new scents and luxuriant textures!

And in the kitchen? I'm thrilled and delighted to open cabinets and find the remaining pieces to a set of dishes long-ago commissioned by a potter for whom I used to babysit. I eat all my meals from bowls or plates I first fell in love with nearly 20 years ago. My beverages, too, are consumed from only the old, familiar glasses and mugs from years gone by, reminding me of the apartment building where we used to live, before we each moved to different states in opposite directions. Before she had babies who are now as old and older than we were when we first met.

When I mention that I'm spending a few weeks in Atlanta, people respond with comments about the traffic and local attractions. The traffic really is as bad as everyone says. It will be a big deal if I even take advantage of my proximity to the High Museum. Instead, after weeks spent at a frenetic pace, suddenly I'm slowing down. Way down. When I'm not trying to get caught up on work, I walk around the garden and shoot photos of lavander, blueberries and hydrangias. I sit on this well-appointed deck and listen to the birds in a way I often forget to do. I walk Bel and pause seventy-two times per block as she sniffs those scents only doggies can smell. I stand in the hallways and look at framed, black and white photos of babies. Photos that I once printed, one-at-a-time, by hand, in a darkroom. (Remember darkrooms??) And I actually remember to take deep breaths.

My Greensboro life is every bit as good as my life down here. It's the difference that makes me pay attention. The severe change in routine. Maybe it's the human condition. Maybe we have to take ourselves outside our typical rhythms in order to remember the importance of appreciating those little things. All I know is how important it is to pay attention to those things when we can. So that's what I'll be doing.

Still? You should feel free to call. All this talk about solitude is all well and good; we all know that in 3 days I'll need a distraction from my distractions. When you're me? That's also a human condition.