A farm in South Alabama. We’re visiting a friend. She has two Golden Retrievers. Cody and Piper. They sit on the porch, staring while I eat a sandwich.
Cody is my new best friend. He’s giving me sugar.
I ask my friend how old Cody is.
“Six,” she says. “And Piper’s seven.”
That’s middle-aged in dog-years. Just enough arthritis to make mornings tough; just enough youth to make one stupid.
Take, for instance, me. I am a six-year-old dog.
Cody is big, reddish, and runs faster than I can throw sticks. He has a wide neck, big paws. When he gets excited, he pants harder than The Little Engine that Stunk.
He gives good sugar.
Piper is small. She is Cody’s manager. She leads by example. Her virtues are: calmness, patience, loyalty, and gluttony. She has talents, too. Piper can sit for three full seconds.
I finish eating. I’m taking a walk. It’s seven. The sun has just set. Crickets make me deaf. It’s a big field.
Cody and Piper are following. They stay behind, noses near my hands.
“They must like you,” says my friend.
I wish, but I’m afraid there’s more to it than that. The truth is, they’re staying close because I have beef jerky in my pockets.
Old Indian trick.
I’m a pathetic dog admirer. I’ve never met a dog I didn’t talk to. I’ve owned my share, and I’ve even tried training a few.
I’m hopeless at it. I never get past the basic command: “Nonononodammit!”
That is, except with Lady. That dog was smart enough to pass the Bar Exam.
I was young. Lady arrived in our open garage. Black, curly hair. Floppy ears. A gash on her backside. At first, she didn’t give affection, she was too clever for that.
So, I filled my pockets with jerky.
She kept her distance for days. Finally, she wandered near and (snap) I got my sugar.
I gave her one piece of dehydrated sirloin, she gave me the rest of her life.
She had a hound face—too much loose skin. It was hard to tell if she was happy. Her smile looked the same as sadness.
We went camping some. We’d watch sunsets, then we’d split a can of chili—at least I’d try to share. She wouldn’t.
One July day, she quit eating. Then came the moaning. Her eyes looked lazy. Lots of drool. Cancer. It happened so fast.
I dug her hole and almost puked.
The fact is, I grew up without a compass. Fatherless children like me often do. In my life, I’ve found myself looking for folks with the biggest ears. Friends, who listen. Who liked easy things. Like riding shotgun, eating chili, or going on walks.
I’ve had a few friends: Goldie, Joe, Hannah, Moses, Ollie, Rolly, Boone, Gurgle, and Ellie Mae.
They haven’t left marks on this world, but they’re friends. They followed me—even when I had no idea where I was going.
They had high opinions of me when I didn’t.
They gave me sugar.