by: Thomas E. Hepler
(This piece is written for the July 2009 Memoir Writing get-together
in response to the assigned subject, “Something In Common.”)
It is a five minute walk to the house of daughter number two’s family.
Their dog is a pleasant animal, rescued from a shelter about nine years
ago. His lineage will always be open to question, but he looks like a
small version of a Labrador Retriever. Knowing nothing about him, the
family has settled on the name Riddle. My job, about noon each day, with
time off for weekends and holidays, is to walk to their house and allow
Riddle a back yard comfort visit. When weather permits, I take him for a
walk. I enjoy his company and our stroll. I’m not supposed to reward him
with a biscuit after each visit, but I do. It is what I like to call a
During our daily jaunts, Riddle demonstrates to me that he might be more
properly named Piddle. He claims virtually every bush, mail box, flower
bed, tree, and even a few tall weeds. I’m given to understand this is
the way a dog defines his territory. Did you ever think that our
long-ago ancestors might have done the same? On second thought, yours
might have. Mine? Never!
I have noticed that other dogs, walking the same route, make
counterclaims to the same bushes, mail boxes, flower beds, trees, and
tall weeds. Riddle, and the canines who walk the same route, own it all
— in common.
Recently, it all came back to me. A game. We called it “I Own.” It’s
funny how the mind works.
I was a young lad, a long time ago.
Other than our nuclear family, next in importance so far as my father
was concerned, came the family car. We had one; not every family did in
those days. Unlike the modern wife, my mother never drove. However, she
liked going places. Pop was the chauffeur. Saturdays usually involved a
drive to Mt. Carmel or, most likely, Shenandoah for shopping. Sundays
were often turned over to a pleasure drive, especially in the summer
with trips that would take us to Knoebel’s Grove, Rolling Green Park,
or, on rare occasions, to Hershey Park. It was on those trips that my
brother and I played our game, “I Own.”
The rules were simple. I owned everything on my side of the car, and my
brother owned everything on his side. Of course, you needed to call it
to own it. Sitting in the front, our parents were most likely
entertained to hear me yell, “I own that farm and all those cows.” My
brother might retaliate, in a few minutes, “I own that grocery store.”
Movie theatres, gas stations, cemeteries, ice cream parlors (a
specialty), a barn, a farmer’s market, a saloon, an airport — the small
one in Bloomsburg and one on the road to Gordon — were always up for
grabs. Even an outhouse was fair game, if one chose to claim it. I
wouldn’t. Churches were a special case. I never liked to lay claim to
one; I never wanted to challenge the current owner. My brother, more
adventurous than I, was the type who would. Vehicles on the road or
bridges we might be driving over were off limits as well. People were
If Pop retraced the same route on the way home, and, if my brother and I
had not changed seats, then everything Bobby owned going became mine on
the return trip. And what I had claimed originally was now his. But you
needed to call it, and sometimes I might call something my brother
missed the first time. The opposite was also true.
We didn’t write down our acquisitions. Nor did we keep score. Who won
our home-made game of “I Own” was always very subjective. In the end, we
would argue about who won, but I always did. If you had asked my
brother, he’d provide a different story.
In the grand scheme of things, as the dust settled, we owned everything
A few years ago, my brother and I were in a car with some of our
offspring. It came to me of a sudden. I yelled, “I own that Starbucks.”
That felt good! I never owned a Starbucks before. Without missing a
beat, he responded, “I own that WalMart.” That was his first ever
WalMart. We kept it up for a while. I think somewhere along the route
one of us claimed a Barnes & Noble. Our kids, well into adulthood,
simply listened and likely shook their heads in disbelief, as these two
seventy-plus-year-olds played a game from long ago. Same rules. I won,
but don’t tell my brother. Knowing we were not going to return by the
same route, no ownership was in common.
On our walks, I am reminded that Riddle’s claim will soon be jumped by
the next piddling dog, just as Riddle had jumped another’s prior claim.
I am part of a cat family, and while we’ve lived with as many as three
at one time, we are down to one now. His name is Ollie. Cats don’t lay
claim to owning things, they own people. If you don’t believe me, then
you need to have one live with you. All you need to do is feed it, clean
its litter box, and offer yourself up in whatever way your pet wishes to
claim you. Cats do not pee on you. They cuddle and make you so happy to
be owned. You can own a dog, PETA notwithstanding. You never own a cat.
Ollie owns us — not in common, but unconditionally.