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Hackie: For the Love of Rugby


Published November 28, 2018 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 5, 2018 at 12:25 p.m.

Annalee Mason, like me, was a baby boomer. When I asked her, it turned out that she came into this world just a year after my own earthly debut. This means that she and I were close to the same age when president Kennedy was killed, when the Beatles arrived, through the disco era, at the fall of the Berlin Wall, and on and on.

Through the years, I've found this to be a surprisingly deep connection for two people to share. Indeed, as the two of us chatted in my cab, it felt like we were on the same page in so many ways.

"So, Annalee, this ride is kind of exciting for me," I said, glancing at her in the shotgun seat as we motored south on 22A. "I've been doing this for so many years, it's rare for me to get to virgin territory."

"Never been to Granville, huh?" she asked. She was cute, I noticed, with short red hair, sparkling green eyes and an easy laugh. A little on the plump side, to be sure, but there's nothing wrong with that.

"Nope. I've been to Poultney once on a fare to Green Mountain College. But never further south into your area of New York."

"The plan had been for Brick, my husband, to pick me up, but I was released a day earlier than we anticipated and he couldn't leave work."

Annalee had undergone knee-replacement surgery in Burlington, one of those bona fide miracles of modern medicine. It can be easy to take things like this for granted until you consider our cave-dwelling forebears huddled around a campfire.

I would have made one lousy caveman, I mused. As a person freaked out by, like, moths and spiders, I would not have acquitted myself well facing down a saber-toothed tiger.

"Brick is a scientist and has been working the last couple of years at a big lab in Maine," she continued. "He normally gets back home every other weekend."

"My goodness, I imagine that must be a strain," I speculated.

"Well, it ain't easy," she said with a chuckle. "But, hey, we've been together 40 years, so we can handle it."

"I bet you can," I said. "So, how did you and Brick meet?"

A big smile broke out on Annalee's face. "Well, I was 21 and living with my sister in Cortland. One day her new puppy, Mickey, escaped from the house just as I was about to take him for a walk, and I ran out to chase him down. There were these two guys down the street playing Frisbee. One of them — Brick, it turned out — corralled Mickey. When I caught up with them and he passed me the leash, our eyes locked. It was a startling experience — one that I'd never had before and have never had since."

"It was like you already knew each other?" I suggested.

"Yes, that was it exactly! So, I walked the dog back to the house and took a seat on the porch, and the boys went back to their Frisbee game. Then I overhear Brick saying to his friend, in this loud whisper, 'Throw it over there, throw it over there.' So, the guy makes a 'bad throw' that lands on our lawn, and Brick comes running over to retrieve it.

"He looks up at me and asks, 'Hey, would you like to come over later to our place for, like, tea or some food or something?'"

"Tea?" I said, chuckling "Where'd he get that from? Like you were English or something."

"Yeah, we laughed about that later. He said he barely knew what he was saying. So, we had a nice 'tea,' and he asked me a few days later to a barbecue."

"So, you met more of his friends, I guess. Didja like them?"

"Oh, yeah — he knew some great people."

"Did he kiss you at the barbecue?" I asked. I was way into this story. It felt like a Hallmark movie.

"When he dropped me off that night, yes. The next date was the biggie. He told me he plays on a rugby team, and the following weekend they were competing in a two-day tournament in Saranac Lake, and would I like to come with him. I thought about it and said, 'Sure, I always wanted to learn about rugby.'"

I laughed and said, "Oh, I'm sure you did."

"Well, I did!" she insisted, laughing along with me.

"So, I'm afraid this inevitably leads to the next question," I said. "How can I put this delicately? In Saranac, at the hotel, did he reserve one room or two?"

"A single room, sir, a single room," she replied in a mock-serious tone, and we laughed some more.

We reached Granville — a tidy little New York town with a surprisingly robust center — and continued through to Annalee's home located up a country road. As we pulled into the driveway, her mom emerged to greet us on the front porch. Though elderly, she was spritely and bright-eyed like her daughter.

Annalee took my arm, and we walked toward and up the three front steps. Mom and daughter embraced as I opened the door to drop off her bag. I was met by two adorable yapping wiener dogs, who were overcome with joy at this dachshund-and-mistress reunion. I was a little overcome myself, as I have a thing for these noble little doggies.

"Oh, boy — I love dachshunds!" I blurted out. "I used to have one. What are their names, Annalee?"

"The brindle one is Zanzibar, and the black-and-gray is Pepper."

Bending down to pet the wriggling pooches, I said, "Zanzibar, Pepper — it's a pleasure to meet ya."

I believe I had a smile on my face for the entire ride back to B-town. Getting to hang a bit with a pair of dachshunds was the cherry on top of an already sweet fare.

All of these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.

The original print version of this article was headlined "For the Love of Rugby"