A boy and his dog.

September 22, 2010 § 6 Comments

As a kid I yearned for a dog.  I just knew that if you wrote out one of life’s difficult questions and then filled in the answer-blank with, “get a dog,” you would be right nine out of ten times.

My mother’s death was the most difficult question life ever posed to our family, especially for my father who did not believe in the escape clause, “until death do us part.”  He had no desire to remarry.  He had three grown children and their children.  He’d make do with what family he had left.

After her death he spent winters in Tallahassee in the house across the street from ours, and summers “up home” in New Jersey.  When we called him there his voice was rusty from disuse.  “You need a dog, Dad,” I said.   He squeaked out the logical reasons why he could not have a dog.   

Our daughter, Josie, a college student, who lived in his house here when he was up north offered him half ownership in a dog.  “Which half?” he asked, intrigued.  Unlike Solomon, who offered to split the child, Josie suggested they split the year.  In summer the dog would be hers, in winter his.

At about the time he agreed to 50% dog ownership, an Australian cattle dog was dumped on Jackson Bluff, the road at the edge of our neighborhood.  When Josie met her at the animal shelter where she volunteered, the dog-who-would-be-Moo gave her a look that said–get me out of here.

That winter Moo became my father’s shadow.  If he couldn’t find her it was because she was too close, hidden under his chair or the edge of his bed.   When he fired up his van, Moo rode shotgun.  Instead of the lone silhouette of a bald, shiny head there was now a second one with pointy ears.

Winter coming to an end, my father called a family meeting.  He said that if no one objected he wanted to take Moo north with him.  We waited to high-five each other until we were out the door.

He and Moo made the same migration as the birds several times, but my father’s heart, which had always been balky, began to slow him down.  On the morning walks at Bluebird, the ten acre property we own in a rural county south of Tallahassee, the benches scattered along their route were becoming too far apart.  We added more benches until finally I walked with him carrying a plastic lawn chair.  When he sat, Moo took up her post under his chair.

Dad met with a heart surgeon.  The surgery he needed had a 20% mortality rate, not great odds, but the odds of living with the heart as-is were no better.  My father, always practical, opted for surgery.  “And if it doesn’t work, it’s okay,” he said.  “It’s been a good life.”

On the morning of the surgery he patted Moo and told her he would be back.  But he never made it.  He was in that 20%.

Moo looked for him in all the places they had been together, including the lakeside house we rent in Maine each summer, returning to the bedroom they always shared and staring through the door.  Little by little though she found herself a new boy, my husband, Ray.  They travel the paths at Bluebird together.  He loves her as my dad did. I do too.

I still believe, when life asks you to fill in a difficult blank, nine times out of ten you should answer: get a dog.

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