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House Call

12/29/08 5:55PM By LeeLee Goodson

(HOST) Commentator LeeLee Goodson is a native Vermonter who lives with her husband in an old farmhouse surrounded by horses, dogs, and chickens. She also teaches American literature at UVM - and as part of VPR's continuing effort to explore the ways in which we Reach Out to one another in hard times - she recalls the events of one snowy evening, a cat and a house call.

(GOODSON) After my husband Gregg graduated from vet school, we converted half of our farmhouse into a veterinary practice.  It was convenient for late-night emergencies - Gregg could simply kick off his slippers and walk into the clinic.  But the hours were long, the loans large, and the pay small.  At times we wondered if we had made the right decision.
 
During one such period of doubt, at about this time of year, Gregg was called to vaccinate a cat.  The cat's owner lived north of Hardwick and didn't drive, so Gregg made a house call. It was late afternoon, and a couple of emergencies had already put him behind schedule.  On top of that, it had started to snow and the roads were bad. 

He bumped along a frozen dirt road in the darkness of the early winter storm. 

When he stopped in front of an unlit house trailer, he checked his directions to be sure he had the right address.

The windows were covered in heavy plastic and the curtains were drawn. Weathered plywood was hammered in a graying mosaic to the outside walls, and hay bales surrounded the base of the trailer. Greg took in the whole effect and suspected he might not get paid.  He'd just make it quick, and get home in time for dinner.
 
Wind cut through his jacket while he knocked and waited. A woman's voice called for him to come in.  Inside, the room was dark except for the flicker of a television screen in the corner, its picture as snowy as the storm outside.
 
"Would you mind if we turned on a light?" he asked. When she switched on the only lamp in the place, he saw that she was a small woman, maybe in her seventies, with swollen ankles and opaque eyes.
 
It became clear to him that she didn't need lights because she was blind.

After brief introductions, the woman said he'd have to find the cat.  "Puss-Puss doesn't like strangers," she warned.
 
For the next forty-five minutes Gregg searched the trailer with just the tiny flashlight on his key chain. In the process, he dinged his shin on her iron bed.  Finally, he spotted two golden eyes gleaming unblinkingly back at him from a dark recess under the kitchen counter. He reached in and grabbed Puss-puss gently by the scruff.
 
After the exam, he packed his vet box and stood to go. Then he realized that in the search he'd had to move almost all of her furniture and belongings.  He went back through the trailer, trying his best to replace everything.  By the time he returned to the living room, it was well after seven o'clock. He was tired, the roads were bad, and he wanted to leave.  But there she was - all alone. 

When he did get home later that night, he apologized for missing dinner.  He said he'd stayed a while just to visit.  I thought about her little trailer in the snowy darkness, and knew I had married a good man, and that despite our debt and the long hours, this was the best life for us.
 
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