Your last years were spent so quietly that I forget I will not turn around now and see you there, under the piano by the window.
Your earlier years were not like that. As a puppy you were adorable, smart, destructive, annoying. I remember spraying our 5 year old daughter’s snow suit with Bitter Apple so that it would taste bad and you would stop pulling her off her sled when she zoomed down the snowy hill with you in full pursuit.
You felt it your duty to serve as lifeguard. As a pup, you hadn’t yet learned the “reach, throw, row, go” rule of lifeguarding. You went straight for the “go,” belly flopping onto an unsuspecting swimmer, nearly drowning her in your attempts to save her. Later, you learned to perch on the hot tub, dutifully, regally, loyally watching each and every morning lap.
You enjoyed food, especially if it was not yours: the butter on the counter. The turkey on the counter. The zucchini bread on the counter. The pancake mix on the counter. The frosted carrot cake on the counter. You taught us that we shouldn’t leave food on the counter. But really you taught us to share.
You waited up with me on those nights I waited up for them, that night I called the highway patrol in 3 counties before the child came home and asked “Why were you worried? I was at a midnight movie.” Your sweet face and my hair both turned gray together before their time.
You attended backyard birthday parties, sitting by the fire pit while marshmallows were roasted, stealing food off plates, often eating the plate itself, always helping to clean up the leftovers when everyone had gone.
You lay under the piano as we struggled to learn rhythm and notes.
You napped on the window seat as we struggled to learn calculus or write a paper.
You lay on the kitchen floor as we made mess after mess, cleaning up stray pieces of food and checking the dishes in the dishwasher to make sure they were scrap-free before it was run.
You snuck onto the dining room bench seats when you thought no one was looking but the dog hair on guests’ black pants as they were leaving was a dead give away.
You lay on the back porch basking in the evening sun as we ate our summer meals.
Your contribution to any stressful situation was always to demand a walk when things got a little too intense or overwhelming. You got us out of the house, out of our heads, opened our hearts, diffused our anger or sadness, enhanced our joy.
Your favorite walks were off leash on a friend’s farm. You would jump in the car, even when we weren’t going, just in case, sometimes inspiring us to go, even when there wasn’t time, even when there was something more pressing to do.
You went straight for the mud, the burrs, the deer poop that called you to roll in it. You enjoyed gathering those burrs in your beautiful coat. But you hated the process of having them removed–the pulling, the snipping, the slow detangling. Doesn’t that just sum up how most of us like to live: so easy to attract those bad elements, so hard to extricate them once they are embedded.
After awhile, you needed a boost to get in the car. After another while, you needed to be picked up and placed there. But you wouldn’t miss a trip.
Because of you, I walked on sunny days and in downpours. We introduced fresh boot prints alongside fresh paw prints in fields of silky snow.
You walked with us every night.
You were on that silent walk after the child bombed a test.
You were on the walk when we decided Chris should have heart surgery at Mayo.
You walked with us after each child found out about a college admission.
You walked with us when Charlie came to meet us that first time.
You walked with me on November 9, 2016.
You made us walk when we didn’t want to go, insisting, softly, then loudly. Firmly. Insisting.
When we yelled or criticized and corrected the children, you walked alongside, never judging, never second guessing, never suggesting how they could be someone they weren’t or how to go back and change something they couldn’t change, quietly showing us the best parenting strategy: simply walking together, day after day and night after night.
You made me walk when I didn’t want to. As you aged, sometimes I made you walk when you didn’t want to. We both returned from each walk feeling stronger, healthier, more peaceful. Every time.
Because of you, our family felt more raindrops, trudged through more mud, walked under more full moons, saw more cotton and sunflower and soybeans go from seed to seedling to flower to harvest, season after season.
You made us worry more, laugh more, love more, live more.
And now we cry more, having said good bye to you.
As Ram Dass says, “We’re all just walking each other home.”