A Place for Dogs
Golden hair flowed in my peripheral vision as I peddled past the park for dogs in our neighborhood. Developers actually cordoned off the forty-five thousand square feet or so of green turf at somewhere north of a hundred thousand per acre to create a special place for dogs to run free; at least up to the chain link boundaries where barking, smelling, and pooping were all okay. That quick glance was all it took to reach back in time when dog parks were not necessary as back yards were the norm. Our own fences kept our own dogs with us to enjoy at any minute of any day without blocking time to pack the kids and the dog in the back of the SUV to visit a dog park where the precious time alone would have to be shared. Most things on similar days have not changed. Warm sun on my face and just the slight hint of chill in the breeze felt the same as did the phenomenon of birds singing the same song thousands of miles away from the backyard on Patrick Avenue. Those days when traffic hummed along Laburnum Avenue some three of four blocks north sounded the same as the drudging along I-75 just five miles away. All these familiar stimulants of sound, crisp air reassuring you that you are alive, and even the smell all melt together as if time played no part of separation whatsoever.
That golden hair seen just for a moment between hedge bushes and spiced with children’s laugher triggered a time when my own Cocker Spaniel and I spent our days in our back yard. One day that stood out was the day he hobbled across the yard in his old age of sixteen to bring the special familiar dog smile to my sixteen year old youthful lap. The intersection of sixteen years rings strange seeing my best friend near the end, as I was just barely approaching my beginning. His name was Big Brother. He lives on in a recurring role in my novel, Believe Our Fathers, as well as the answer to the secret question on secure websites that ask to verify your identity by the name of your first pet.
There was something different that present day on the bike gliding past the dog park. One thing that had changed was the music that pounded in big bass notes from the convertible that zipped by broadcasting some loud rap crap with lyrics no one could decipher. However, crap was around back then five decades ago when one of the most popular songs on the local radio station was If You Wanna’ Be Happy as Jimmy Soul made a point that to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife. It never made any kind of sense to me that his lyrics elevated the glory in the line, “Get an ugly girl to marry you...” The concept seemed very defeatist; even if the sentiment rose to the top and became a number one hit record and stayed on the charts for over three months. What was a novelty song that generated laughs from both men and women would today be an unforgivable politically incorrect offense. The song would never get recorded much less played on radio stations across the country. Not only that, but the basic premise of regaling pretty women and ugly women most likely would mean you would never have a chance with either. Sadly, the singer gave up his music career, joined the Army, and died of a heart attack at age forty-five; so much for ugly wives and long lives.
Time teaches that real love comes in acts of kindness. Feeling Big Brother’s tired but happy face on my lap as he loved the way I would rub under his chin and massage his floppy golden ears was an act of love he really appreciated and made it clear in the affectionate eye contact we would make. Two travelers both the same age, but one is old, the other not so much, have a deep connection that out last chart busting records. My friend, my Cocker Spaniel named Big Bother, was like a brother to me.
For some reason unknown, his memory flashed back to me with the short sighting of another golden colored dog. The feeling would not go away. That longing to fill some vast hole in your chest created an ache that felt worst than the last day we had together. Time took its due and my friend no longer could hobble a challenged run to see me. That day he was in our basement in the bed next to the heat from our furnace. He had given up his appetite and could not even swallow a beaten egg I tried to pour into his mouth. No nourishment could erase the evil that time had dealt us. As I sat there with my friend, the phone upstairs rang. It was my mother calling from her job to check on me and Big Brother. Leaning on the shelf of the telephone nook in the wall in the hall by the bathroom, I hung onto the bulky black receiver of our rotary phone tied to the nook by a wire cable. There I stood in my oversize jeans I had not yet grown into to save money, I heard my mother ask with comfort and explain how she was proud of me to take care of my friend by myself.
“I just tried feeding him,” I said.
“He couldn’t eat?” She asked, “Hmm.”
At that moment I heard my dog bark loud as if he were calling my name, “He’s barking for me,” I said. “He must be feeling better.”
We hung up, and I ran back to his bed in the basement.
He laid there still. On his side. Head resting near the furnace.
“Hey boy,” I comforted.
Big Brother’s smile was gone. He had taken it with him.
That feeling came back as if it were yesterday. An emptiness that chokes had been swept away by thousands of miles and nearly four thousand days between us. But now, it was back. This time, the feeling was closer and held on tighter than the day when he was old and I was young.