My dad used to tell me stories about one of the dogs he had growing up. I forget its name, unfortunately, but the dog lived nearly 15 years before it succumbed to the vagaries of old age. Even when I was young, I could tell that dad loved that dog. He lit up every time he told that story, and I’d ask him about it frequently just so I could picture it in my mind’s eye and imagine my dad as a young boy running around with his dog. It’s hard to imagine your parents as kids themselves, but something about that story resonated with me and made my dad more real to me.
It goes without saying that my dad loved dogs. You don’t talk about something frequently unless it stirs a passion within you. I had many dogs growing up. I’m not sure my dad was ever as close to any of them as he was the one from his childhood, but he always made sure I had a dog by my side.
The first dog I remember was a mutt named Sam. Sam barely stood knee high to an adult with his stubby legs and long sandstone coat. He wasn’t even particularly fond of me, occasionally growling at me when I got too physical with him. He snapped at me once, and that made me hesitant to get really close to him, but I loved having him around and played with him outside often.
Sam loved my dad. He would follow him to the car when he left for work or ran errands and he’d trot out to the road when my dad pulled that old, blue Ford Maverick he drove onto the two-lane road that ran in front of our house. There was rarely much traffic on that road, but the cars that did pass by were often speeding. Despite the dangers of the road, Sam would amble casually across the road as if any cars would stop for him.
One weekend, dad drove me up the hill to visit my grandparents (we only lived a quarter mile away but my parents never walked anywhere back then). As Sam was wont to do, he cut through the pasture behind our house and followed us along the short, circuitous path to my grandparents’ place on the hill. He probably moved as fast as his stubby legs could take him, but we were already parked and standing outside talking to my grandfather when Sam cut through my uncle’s yard and headed across the road to greet us.
We could see him coming through the fields, and my dad even laughed that the dog had followed us as all three of us watched him, but just as Sam started across the road, a junky, old car came flying around the curve and struck him right in front of us. Sam flew into the air and landed with a sickening thud on the pavement. The car continued around the curve but came to a stop and turned around.
Dad cursed under his breath, but mostly, we just stood there, stunned. Sam didn’t move, and perhaps, we all knew how this was going to end. Except me. Dad tried to keep me back, but I insisted on helping my dog. By the time we reached the road, the driver, a young man with a porn-mustache and billowing, flowered shirt, stepped from his car and apologized profusely as we drug our dog from the road.
Dad didn’t express any anger toward the man, nor did the man hang around long, but he wasn’t happy that our dog had been run down. It didn’t help that I refused to accept the fact that Sam was dead. His eyes were still open in a vacant, lifeless stare, which to me meant he was still alive. I tried to convince my dad that he was not dead and I pointed to his open eyes repeatedly as he drug him to a grave in the pasture. Finally, he put a stop to my rambling with a few curt words, and the tears came. After he properly buried Sam, he put his arm on my shoulder as we walked back to my grandparents’ house. Dad didn’t say anything, he was never good at dealing with emotion, but it comforted me nonetheless.
At that young age, I learned two important lessons that have stuck with me: life is fragile and fleeting and bad things may happen but something good eventually comes along. Sam may have perished that day, but I wasn’t without a dog for very long. Dad worked with a guy who raised dogs, mostly mutts, and always had a steady stream of puppies ready for new homes. One morning, not long after Sam died, I awoke to find a new puppy in a box in the middle of our living room. I was ecstatic.
Shorty, as I aptly named him, was a short-legged mutt who was mostly white save for a patch of brown and black on his face. He was as excited to see me as I was to see him. I fell in love with him immediately, and we became inseparable companions. He was the first dog that was truly mine. We went everywhere together. As I got older and began to explore the woods behind our house, Shorty was there, always at the ready to chase away dangerous squirrels.
On that first morning, my mom had to tear me away from Shorty long enough to get dressed and eat breakfast, but I was so excited I could barely eat. I wanted to show Shorty off. My cousin Crystal lived across the street at the time, and I just had to show her my new dog. After breakfast, I took Shorty, in the box, over to Crystal’s house and we played with him for a long while. Shorty’s introduction into our family was a roaring success, and thus began my love affair with dogs that still persists to this day. I have my dad to thank for that.