Friday, February 15, 2013
What goes around...
It's seems such a slight to call Alan my cousin. Being the baby in a house full of sisters Alan provided all that a big brother would have provided...and that's what he became to me. I wanted to walk like Alan, talk like Alan, be strong as four mules like Alan and make everybody around me as happy as Alan made us. Alan had a huge, beautiful Irish Setter named Blarney. Blarney took every step that Alan took and wanted to go on every ride that Alan took in his truck. When that beautiful animal was run over by a car down on the highway one day, Alan dug a hole big enough to bury a piano so that Blarney would be comfortable. So it's no wonder that - after we tragically lost Alan to cancer - I badly wanted to have the same breed of dog as one that he had loved and lost.
And not long after he died, that opportunity presented itself. I got my Irish Setter. He was 2 years old, fully grown with that perfect, red hair that became even more radiant when the sun hit it. Mama - proud of the Irish heritage on her father's side of the family - insisted I give it a good Irish name. Her favorite book was Wuthering Heights and she said "Heathcliff" would be a fine Irish name. So Heathcliff it was. Proud name for a proud dog..he was smart and cocky and not afraid of anything. In the first 2 weeks I had him I grew to love everything about him and wondered what I'd ever done without him. Like Alan's Blarney, Heathcliff insisted on being wherever I was and doing whatever I was doing. But one day Heathcliff realized he could make it over the back fence and took off. He was just gone. I drove all over the place looking for that dog and couldn't find him. I was crushed, but Mama said "well, some men and some dogs have wandering feet and there's not a thing you can do about it."
A week or so later, I was walking down Main St. in Stone Mountain and came upon an old, old man walking a beautiful Irish Setter. Sixth sense clicked in even before I got close to them and I knew he was walking my dog. By the time they were next to me on the sidewalk I could see the collar I'd bought for him and noticed his ears perking up and a strong tug on the leash that damn near pulled the old fellow right onto the ground. Definitely my dog. I was ready to plead my case and demand that this beautiful creature be returned to its rightful owner! Then the old man spoke; "Good Lord, he usually walks better than this. You shore got him excited for some reason." I decided to play it cool - "Where you'd get this dog?" I asked while giving Heathcliff a scratch behind the ears. He answered "Well, I was just sitting on the porch one day and he came running up and laid down next to me like he owned the place." You could hear both pride and contentment in his voice. I began to lose my resolve to take back something that - just a minute ago - I'd been ready to fight for. That resolve became even weaker when he continued "....and it was perfect timing, too. My wife died about 6 months ago. Only woman I ever loved...known her since we were kids. Got to where I sat on that porch all day...didn't matter if it was cold, hot raining or whatever...sat out there because I couldn't stand to go in that empty house. Well, now my house ain't empty." Game over. I gave Heathcliff one final scratch behind the ears, told the man he had himself a good dog and I walked off. I'd done my good deed for the day.........hell, maybe for a lifetime!
Fast forward to 2003. I'm married and living with my bride and a 130 pound black Labrador Retriever named Buzz. He was my roommate in my single days and when I got married my new wife learned to love him every bit as much as I did. But there in December of 2003, I turned 40 one week and Buzz died the next week. (There's a country song in there somewhere - I turned 40 and my dog died, all I needed was a broken down truck.) We were crushed and not sure when we'd get another dog, but we knew we wanted one at some point. A week after Buzz was gone the vet we'd used for him called and told us they were so sorry to hear that Buzz had died.....and wanted to know if we were going to get another dog. "The reason we're asking........" They'd found what they guessed to be a 1-year-old yellow Lab running loose down Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. She was housebroken, she'd been spayed (had a fairly fresh scar) and was smart and sweet (what Lab ain't??) They thought of us first because they knew how well we'd treated our last Lab. I told them we'd come by to LOOK at the dog. I emphasized "LOOK" to the lady of the house. I told her that we were doing this out of courtesy. And it was just a look and it was just a courtesy.....until this gorgeous creature ran and got a tennis ball and came and dropped it at my feet, wanting to play with me. Again, game over.
The older you get the more you learn that it really is all just one big circle. An old man in Stone Mountain needed an Irish Setter to make a house a home again. 30-something years later we needed a soul full of life and humor and mischief to help us smile again...and she came running down Peachtree Industrial Boulevard to find us. She's lying over there right now in a spot of warm sun shining in the window, snoring and dreaming ("chasing rabbits.") I'm going to be forced to go over and wake her up just so I can rub her belly.