Outside Dog

by

Bill Tune

bctune@gmail.com

My niece Allyson graduated from college with a degree in education this past December.  With few employment opportunities for teachers at this time of year, she chose to take advantage of a program that sends young teachers abroad to South Korea to teach English classes for 6 months.  She left in February and has been sending weekly video reports that chronicle her experiences in this “strange land”.  She’s having a great time and learning a lot about the local culture and herself.  For instance, did you know that drivers’ licenses in Korea do not record eye and hair color?  Why should they when 99% of them are brown eyes, brown hair!  Allyson has bonded with her fellow adventurers who are also part of the program plus she seems to especially cherish the relationships she is cultivating with the native South Koreans, both students and teachers.  As gratifying as these new relationships have been, she recently expressed some slight frustration over her inability to get as close as she would like to her South Korean co-workers.  She made the following observation: “I’ve decided it’s like being an outside dog.  People will feed you and be nice to you, but you’ll never really know what it’s like on the inside.”


I thought her statement was rather profound, then realized that in many ways it also applied to me.  I have lived most of my life in an “outside dog” type of existence.


As the son of a Methodist preacher in northwest Texas, we moved from parsonage to parsonage every two or three years.  I never knew what “roots” were until I figured out that I didn’t have any.  Fortunately, my parents had twins when I was just 18 months old, so when we moved to a new community I always had someone to play with even before making new friends.  Of course, kids are oblivious to the workings of the world around them – as they should be – so the wisdom I share of these days is retrospective.  Most of us grow up assuming the world we see is the same as the world everyone else sees.  My grandparents all died young, long before I was born, so naturally, I thought anyone who had a living grandparent must be something of an oddity.  Then I started school and soon discovered that in my first grade class I was the only one who didn’t have a living grandparent - so much for the innocence of youth.


I still didn’t realize how different it must be not to move on a regular basis until later in my school career when I started making friends with people who had “gone to school together all their lives.”  It’s great to have a friend, but how do you compete with relationships that are as old as you are?  Answer: You don’t.  Some of the better friends became pen pals after I left, but that never lasted long.  I can remember the first letter I wrote to a former girlfriend in the last place we lived.  I wrote it in invisible ink (lemon juice), and she was instructed to iron it in order to read my words of affection.  Romantic, huh?  Come to think of it, I don’t think she ever answered my letter.  I don’t know why, either.  We didn’t even know cursive yet, so it should have been easy.  Oh well, new place, time for a new friend – girl or boy.


I did catch one break in high school.  I started my freshman year at Andrews High School, Andrews, TX, and my Dad stayed there 3 years.  I was active in band and excelling in academics, so I was devastated to learn at the end of my junior year that we would not be coming back for a fourth year.  Then members of the church, the Dortch’s, invited Mom and Dad over one Sunday afternoon for cake and coffee, and they had a proposal.  They said I could live with them next year and graduate from AHS.  They lived across the street from the school, so transportation wouldn’t be an issue.  My loving Mother was appreciative of the offer, but informed them that I would never agree to such an arrangement.  I still remember the look on her face when she told me of their offer, and I excitedly said, “Oh can I, can I, can I??!!”


Mom recovered, arrangements were made, and I was able to finish my high school career in the same school I started it.  It was the first school I had ever attended more than two years.  I was even fortunate enough to graduate valedictorian – by a whopping .08 point.  However, I suspect to this day certain people resented this honor going to an “outsider” instead of a local.


The next 6 years were spent in Austin getting my degree from UT.  When one majors in Electrical Engineering for 2½ years, then switches to Music Education, one does not graduate in 4 years.  It was nice getting to know Austin, but changing apartments almost every year still did not give me a lot of continuity.  Then I started setting personal records.  I stayed at my first band job in Thrall for 8 years.  I got to see my first 5th grade beginner band class walk across the graduation stage.  By the time I left, newcomers would ask me if I had lived there all my life – high praise in my book.  The first house I bought there (affectionately known as the dump) was my home for over 3 years – a new record for living in the same structure.  Beverly and I had the school building trades class build us a new house that we lived in over 4 years – a new record.


We moved to Caldwell in 1983 with our almost-four-year-old son Thomas.  I burned out as a band director after four years, took a year off, then got math-certified and went to work at Somerville, just 17 miles down the road.  We eventually moved to the Somerville area, but not until we had celebrated 10 years in the Caldwell house – a new record (which still stands).  Thomas spent his first 7 years in Caldwell schools, and then we moved him to Somerville where he finished his pre-collegiate studies in 1998.  I worked for Somerville ISD for 12 years – a new record.  By the time I left I think I was considered one of the “old-timers”, a distinction I wore with honor. 


I don’t set records any more.  In 2000 my wife graduated from Seminary at SMU and after 20 years as a classroom teacher, she is now a pastor in the United Methodist Church.  We move, on average, every three years.  I live in a parsonage again.  Sometimes life really does come full circle!  Maybe after she retires, we can start some new records.


No matter how long I live in a place now, there will always be references to people and events that preceded my existence in the memories of the locals.  I will never know or fully understand what it’s like to grow up and grow old surrounded by family and friends who remember when I was born.  I will continue to be left out when my friends use landmarks like, “where the old Safeway was”.


But that’s okay.  Really.  I’ve developed a philosophy over the years that every situation has advantages and disadvantages.  It’s up to me to choose which ones to focus on.  I may on some level envy the life-long relationships some people enjoy, but when I look back on the many, many people I’ve met and come to know, I feel truly blessed.  I even have a few friendships that span multiple decades, even if I don’t get to see those people as often as I would like.  Thanks to modern technology, keeping in touch is easier than ever today.


I am grateful to have had the opportunity to watch some kids grow up, and even more grateful that Facebook has allowed me to continue to follow some of them. My family and I have known more good people than the locals will ever have the opportunity to meet.  They have blessed and enriched our lives, even if we were the “outside dogs”.  I guess there are lots worse things than being an outside dog.

enough

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