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 80s 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 of 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 ordered barbecue takeout for supper, she ate the barbecue, I ate the bun.
And every night after dinner, I would wrestle with her. Oh, 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 growl.
I’ve never met a dog who liked to wrestle the way she did.
She dog went to work with me when I played music in beer joints with crappy bands. At night, she waited in my truck with the windows down.
And on breaks, restaurant employees would feed her. A dishwasher, a cook, or some hapless dog-loving waitress would visit my truck and give Ellie a to-go box of pulled pork. Ellie Mae was the mascot of my life.
And in many ways, she still is.
She was the first face I saw in the morning, 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 ears, and a slender hound face. The woman in the dress lifted the little puppy into her arms. Applause filled the room.
“Isn’t she pretty?” said the bride.
And I had to excuse myself.
I stepped outside and looked at the rock-salt stars above me and wondered what’s up there. I don’t know exactly what lies beyond. But I believe there is a God.
And I hope, above all, that he likes to wrestle.