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Trains, tracks and scars

| Monday, April 24, 2017

This year started on a disturbing note. As I was on a Monday morning walk near our house in Dallas, I answered a call from on my mobile phone. I normally don’t carry my phone when I walk, since I consider it a time to get away from distractions, but my mom had gone into the hospital with respiratory issues the week before, and we were planning to return to San Antonio in a few days to be with her.

“Mr. Ramirez? It’s B.J. at the Toyota dealership,” the voice on the phone announced. Our SUV had been in the shop for a while, and we had a loaner car. Just so you know, I do not consider having a car in for repair to be part of the disturbing aspect of that morning’s walk, but things were about to change.

“We need to get some parts in from California…”

A flurry of activity entered my peripheral vision, then moved off behind me to the right. I felt a punch at the back of my left ankle, and a sharp pain. I looked down and to my left, and saw a large pitbull-ish dog clamped on me just above my Nike. I tried not to move, and looked up to my right to see people running towards me, apparently having come from the house where the dog resided.

“Hey, B.J.,” I said, in a calm, firm voice. “We’re keeping the loaner car for now, you guys are paying for it as long as we need it, but I have a dog biting me, so I’ll call you later.”

The dog’s owners pulled him (I later found his name was Dax) off my leg, got the dog secured on a leash, and we all started checking out the wounds. Dax had managed to wrap his maw around my leg and left a set of wounds like crimson parentheses arcing a third of the way around my lower calf. I had the wounds wrapped while I stood in the street, completed my walk and drove myself to a strip-center emergency care facility. Doctors cleaned and covered the wounds (no stitches — apparently standard protocol for a dog bite), and three days later our family drove to San Antonio.

We visited with my mom on the Thursday we arrived, saw her again of Friday, and were awakened Saturday morning with the news that she had passed away in her sleep. My mom was 94, and she died surrounded by her family, so her death was not a surprise or tragic. Still, it hurt, and the funeral a week later was a time to hold our whole family close and remind each other that we need to take care of each other while we can and treasure our time together.

My wife, who is a nurse, got to change my wound dressing twice a day, giving it better care than I received at the doctor’s office. With her help the dog bite went from being painful and raw, to sore and tender, now healed and scarring over. With respect to my mom’s death, my wife also provided the quiet comfort that only a caring friend and partner can offer: sometimes asking how I was doing, perhaps offering some advice from her own experience, but mostly just helping to fill in the quiet time by being near me or simply holding my hand.

We returned to San Antonio for the first time since my mom’s funeral for our annual Easter reunion at my brother’s place in Castroville, about 20 miles west of San Antonio. The gathering was a little subdued, but my dad, now 96, was on hand to encourage everyone to eat their fill of barbecue and get the kickball game underway. In the festivity was a sense of loss, but a certainty that life and more celebrations would go on.

The house we stayed at was near a train line still in active use. I was standing on the porch of the house when the crossing guard bells rang out, and a Southern Pacific engine moaned its low warning to clear the tracks. The train rumbled past, hauling freight cars, containers, tankers, large coils of the very stuff of industry, and rolled on into the distance. I was raised near the tracks of trains that hauled endless chains of cattle cars to meat packing plants, and the smell from those operations would make you nauseous when the wind blew the wrong way on a hot summer day.

Maybe that was the reason I saw train tracks as scars that cut across cities, and it was those tracks — those scars — that remained when the trains moved on. The sound of the train on our Easter visit made me nostalgic for the little house crammed with seven children and our parents, with a nearby train rumbling and sounding its horn.

Like many of us, I carry some scars. I’ve made my peace with Dax, who still roams the neighborhood, albeit with a muzzle, and I will always miss my mom, while treasuring any and all of the time we had together. If the wounds were deep and the scars take longer to heal, then so be it. Besides, on the West Side of San Antonio, where I was born and raised, a big dog bite scar is more than a scar — it’s street cred.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Raymond Ramirez

Ray Ramirez is an attorney practicing, yet never perfecting, law in Texas while waiting patiently for a MacArthur Genius Grant. You may contact him at [email protected]

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