As a family, we have raised, loved and said goodbye to five dogs. Each one held a special spot in our hearts and a different significance in our lives. Looking back, it’s easy to see that the lifespan of each of our dogs encompassed and ultimately symbolized the passing of a distinct season in our family’s life.
Our oldest children had a dog named Ethel.
A neighboring farmer, and good friend, looked at my oldest boy one day and said, “You need a dog. You need Ethel.” Actually, that farmer had dubbed her “ugly Ethel.” His daughter found Ethel on her way home from high school, lying beside the road, half starved and bleeding. She had been hit by a car and left by the side of the road to die. The big-hearted teenager wrapped the mangy dog in a blanket, brought her home, and the family nursed her back to health.
Several months later, they gave her to my oldest son Chris — because “every boy needs a good dog.” And mine, he said, needed ol’ ugly Ethel.
Ethel lived to be almost fifteen years old, and became one of the most beautiful dogs we have ever had. She looked like a large, overfed coyote and lived outside at our country home. (It was actually a farm, but we didn’t farm; all we raised were a herd of children. However, a country home sounds so much nicer, don’t you think?)
The best part of living in the country with a dog and children was that we never had to chain the dog or fence in the children. Ethel would sit nearby as the children played, just watching the distance. She was a loyal friend.
She had a habit of waking up at sunrise every morning and heading down to the nearby creek for a quick bath and cool drink of water. Then she would meet my husband at the door and walk him to the car to see him off to work.
On the day she failed to meet him, he knew something was wrong. He called that morning on his way to work because he was concerned that he didn’t see her. We spent the morning searching and calling her name. It wasn’t like her to wonder off. This was terribly out of character for Ethel.
Later that day, as we passed over the bridge that spanned her favorite morning spot, I caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye. It was obvious what had happened.
Ethel had gone out that morning as usual for her morning walk, bath and drink, then walked up the bank and laid down for the last time. The scene was as peaceful as it was heartbreaking.
Ethel’s boy, Chris, left her earlier that summer. He grew up, got married, moved away and left ol’ ugly Ethel behind. When I called him to give him the news, he wanted to come home to bury her himself. That evening, as he did, we said goodbye. Each one of us could feel the churning of time.
A little boy had grown up and left home. A childhood friend took her place in the recesses of his memory, along with his childhood. Her death marked the end of a season, the passing of a guard.
Drake, a rather large golden retriever weighing in at 90 pounds, was the new top dog. Our youngest daughter learned to walk by catching his tail and using him as a walker. He would pull her around the house, and when she wobbled back and forth, he would stop, wait for her to regain her balance, and take a few more steps.
One cold winter night, in the wee hours of the morning, I stumbled into the kitchen to get a drink of water. With one eye open, I noticed there was a puddle of pancake syrup on the floor. Just as I feared, when I opened the cupboard door, the new gallon jug I just bought was lying on its side, half empty.
Honestly, that was more than I could handle at 3 a.m. I grumbled and resigned myself to the fact that the following morning would be spent on my hands and knees sopping up a half-gallon of Mrs. Butterworth’s.
Imagine my surprise when I got up to find a kitchen full of teenaged girls cooking breakfast in a clean kitchen. I was the proudest, most overjoyed mother. Those girls had gotten up before me and cleaned up that mind-numbing mess. There wasn’t a trace of syrup left and no stickiness. I was thankful and looked for someone to hug.
No one wanted to take credit. I questioned each one, and they met my sincere appreciation with confusion.
Then, as I walked into the living room, I noticed our Drake lying in a corner with a very large stomach. When he raised his head to acknowledge his name, I noticed the last drops of syrup clinging to his chin just as his head fell back to the floor.
In spite of Drake’s gluttonous tendencies, he was the closest real life “Nana” my children could have without Peter Pan’s pixie dust.
Both Ethel and Drake lived long enough to affect my kids’ childhoods and create good memories of their lives growing up in our home. We have always insisted on well-behaved children and well-behaved pets. I can’t think of a richer life than spending it with a house filled with plenty of both.