I was at a wedding last week. There was a small reception with cocktail weenies, cheese plates, and an ice sculpture.
Instead of a DJ, there was a band from a local high school. They had long hair and various chains on their body parts. Their music was a cross between 80’s progressive punk, and a nitroglycerine truck colliding against a 747 taxiing on the tarmac.
In the middle of the evening came my favorite portion of any wedding reception: when the tipsy brother-of-the-bride gains control over the microphone.
Others took the stage after him and began sharing memories, offering toasts.
One gentleman picked up the mic and delivered a memory about being a college roommate of the groom. Four hours later, he finally got around to his toast.
Next, a young woman took the stage and read a speech that was written on a stack of notes the size of a term paper.
Then, the father of the bride told a story about when the bride was a girl. It was a sweet memory. He talked especially about a beloved member of the family, a deceased Redbone Coonhound named “Turkey.”
The man talked about this dog as though it were a blood relative, he covered the highpoints of their lives with the dog.
He talked about all the times that Turkey begged at the table, or when Turkey learned how to “load up” in the truck, leaping into the passenger seat.
The times spent walking through the woods with Turkey beside them. And the day Turkey died.
I listened, but I wasn’t thinking about Turkey. I was remembering a black-and-tan bloodhound I once loved.
Her name was Ellie Mae. She had a black face with two tan eyebrows that moved with her every expression. Ellie rode shotgun in my truck each day of her life.
When I went to the store, she went to the store. When I went to work, she went to work. When I camped, so did she. When I ate a hamburger for supper, she ate the burger and fries, I ate the ketchup packets.
And every night after dinner, I would wrestle with her. She loved to wrestle. Her mouth was so big, she could fit my entire forearm in it.
That eighty-pound girl could’ve torn off my arm if she’d wanted, but she would’ve never done that. She would only place a gentle mouth over my arm and pretend.
That dog went to work with me in the daytime. At night, she waited in the truck when I played music at saloons and sports bars with various bands that played very loud music.
And on breaks, restaurant employees fed her. A dishwasher, a cook, or some dog-loving waitress would visit my truck and give Ellie a to-go box of pulled pork.
The dog was the mascot of my entire life. And still is.
She was the first face I saw in the morning, and the last goodnight lick I received. Not a moment goes by that I don’t remember how courageously she hobbled into the veterinary clinic to meet her end.
She knew why she was there, but she was not afraid. Even though her owner bawled, she was calm.
I wish I could be half as brave as that dog.
The man with the microphone wished the young couple well. Then he raised a glass and proposed a toast to the late Turkey.
The whole room held champagne flutes high.
I raised my aluminum can as high as it would go.
And it was during this moment, the old man on stage motioned to the back of the room. Two boys came forward with a box, wrapped in shiny paper, a ribbon around it, and air holes in the sides.
The father said to the bride: “We took the liberty of getting you and your husband a housewarming gift.”
The bride opened the box to reveal a pair of redbone-colored ears, and a slender hound face. The woman in the dress lifted the little puppy into her arms.
Applause filled the room.
The dog’s name isn’t official, but there was a strong petition for the name “Wishbone.”
People passed Wishbone around the room, and I waited until it was my turn to hold her.
When I got my arms on the dog, I kissed her, and I remembered the way I once held a bloodhound I knew. I remember the smell of dander, and the gentle mouth clasped on my arm during the throes of wrestling. I remember too much.
“That’s a real sweet pup,” said one man beside me, shouting over the music.
I looked into Wishbone’s little eyes. I could swear I saw the eyes of an old friend.
“Ain’t she pretty?” said the man.
Well, if you ask me a dog is more than pretty.
A dog is proof that God loves us.