Opinion: The next generation


Published: 01-14-2023 6:00 AM

Parker Potter is a former archaeologist and historian, and a retired lawyer. He is currently a semi-professional dogwalker who lives and works in Contoocook.

In my last My Turn, I mentioned a couple of youngsters who share my interest in gravel, The Little Rock Collector, who also prospects in the parking lot next to the Hopkinton softball fields, and the boy who spent an entire afternoon building cairns on the fence posts that line the high school driveway. I take my daily walk during school hours, so I don’t see many youngsters, but when I do, I am usually charmed right down to my socks.

My first dogwalking client, Molly, has a human little sister, and early on, Molly’s sister would often see me walking up the street and alert her mother that it was time to leash up Molly. I have given Molly’s sister lucky stones for her birthday, and she has given me several beautiful painted rocks and shells, plus a three-dimensional portrait of Molly made out of a clothespin. Clothespin Molly lives on a bookshelf right next to Felt Fiona, a somewhat more two-dimensional portrait of another dog I walk, also made by a human sister.

Molly also has a human brother who is in high school, placing him in an age group not normally known for good manners. But several times when I have dropped off Molly, from somewhere deep inside the house, her brother has called out a “thank you.” I am touched every time a thoughtful human sibling thanks me for walking their family dog.

One day when I passed by the grocery store on my walking route, I saw one of the dogs I walk, Annabelle, and her two human sisters waiting by the door for their mother. I stopped to sit with Annie and her sisters. As we sat there, a couple came by with a dog on a leash, just the kind of hors d’oeuvre-sized dog that Annie can’t help but bark at.

I reached over and gently took the leash from Annabelle’s sister and then put my other arm around Annabelle. When the danger of Annie helping herself to a between-meal snack had passed, Annie’s sister looked at me and said, “that was wise.” Those three words, from a ten-year-old, made my week.

Not long ago, Annie’s other sister asked me a question to which I responded by telling a part of our daughter’s adoption story, which always makes me choke up. When I finished, with tears streaming down my face, Annie’s sister said, “thank you for telling me that.” It was a moment of pure grace.

When I am walking, I sometimes see people out for a run, and on the weekends, some of the runners I see are student-athletes doing some training. They always remind me of all the behind-the-scenes work that those kids do so that they can shine on the field of play.

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My two favorite student-athlete moments came on a late fall weekend in 2001. On Saturday, my walk took me past the last practice of the season for the Hopkinton High School girls’ soccer team. At the end of practice, the players picked up the goals and carried them off the field to their winter resting place. For reasons that I still cannot put my finger on, I found that sight deeply moving.

The next day I walked past that same team waiting for the bus that would take them to the state championship game that they ultimately won. I called out “good luck,” and I have rarely heard a sweeter sound than the harmony of their twenty-girl “thank you.”

In a similar vein, there is a moment I have experienced on many occasions that always brings a smile to my face. I will be walking down the sidewalk when a kid on a bicycle approaches. I move to the side to give the young cyclist plenty of room and invariably when he or she passes me, I hear a “thank you.” I love the thoughtfulness.

During the COVID spring of 2020, Hopkinton started a tradition of posting signs with pictures of all the graduating seniors along Park Avenue, next to the field hockey field. For three springs, I have walked past those signs and had the chance to think about the graduates, some of whom I have known since they were very young. Last spring, I watched two women walk slowly pasts the row of sings, stopping at nearly every one to share a few words with each other. It was a magical cross-generational moment.

COVID also gave rise to daily mask-break walks at the high school, and I routinely saw students I knew out walking with their classmates. Frequently they greeted me, and more often than not they called me by my first name. That always makes me incredibly happy. Those greetings seem like they are part of a rite of passage, and I am overjoyed to be a stepping stone, even a very small one, on a young person’s path from childhood to adulthood.

My daily walks don’t always bring me into contact with members of the next generation, but it’s always a treat when they do. The generosity, thoughtfulness, and joy I see in the kids I encounter, right down to a wave from a random toddler in a stroller, gives me hope for the future.