No. 21 in “Nuggets I picked up from my dog,” inspired while walking the late Coffee J. Dogg.
Once upon a time, Coffee J. Dogg was a used hound in need of a new life. By happenstance I was a used man grasping for what Jimmy Buffett (the billionaire singer not the billionaire billionaire) called “answers to questions that bothered him so.”
We became a team, the hound and I. He lured me out of my basement think tank for daily walks through the neighborhood. In the process I met strangers who very quickly became my neighbors.
Shortly after Coffee went off to the stars I took a walk alone through the neighborhood and stopped to chat with Jamie, who lives on the corner four doors down the street.
Jamie’s was a well-kept lawn, always thick and cool and green. It was Coffee’s favorite spot. In the last year, as his back legs began to give out, our walks shortened considerably. Often the best he could do was to make it down to the corner.
Jamie and Mrs. Jamie always had something nice to say to Coffee, though he usually allowed me to handle any responses.
Gradually, I began to feel Coffee slipping away: many trips to the vet, changes in pain medication, shorter and shorter walks, ominous X-Rays and then a sudden weight loss. You could feel his bones through his fur.“That dog was a real trooper,” said Jamie. “I think in those last few days when it was hard for him, I think he was doing it just for you.”
Kindly words, but difficult to hear. I know I projected onto Coffee the identity of a little boy once very close to me. It’s why I couldn’t deny him treats and why I sat up into the early morning hours with him when he started his decline. He loved me. I loved him. We were the same and different all at once.
Just after that, Katherine and I drove up to Elizabethtown to spend the afternoon with our daughter Bridey who was helping with a community fair. We strolled around and the very first booth we came to was for the local dog rescue organization.They’d brought along several rescued dogs in need of a home.
Each dog was attended by a retinue of little kids, eagerly pressing the fur and directing wide, pleading eyes at their parents. My own eyes settled on a young black hound who instantly reminded me of Coffee. Bridey caught my gaze and raised her eyebrows.
“Thinking of getting another dog, Dad?”
In my life I have owned and lost three dogs. After each was gone I swore never to get another. The hollow in my heart was too fresh and deep to think about going through it again. But basically, I don’t really want another dog. I want the dog I had.
We moved on to a table that held hand-made wooden boxes. One in particular caught my attention. Six inches square, eight inches tall with a lift-up top. An old-timer approached.
“You like that box?”
I shrugged. “It’s a box.”
“There was a woman here a minute ago,” he said, “and she asked me what she could put in that box. You know what I told her?”
I continued to play with the lid.
“I told her ‘Anything you want.'”
He was part of a group who made objects in the wood shop at the local Masonic homes. He looked like somebody’s great-grandfather. He smiled. I smiled. I was weakening and he knew it. And he knew I knew he knew it.
“For the box?” he asked.
I laughed. This sly old critter was a pro. “For the box.”
“Twenty five,” he said.
I went through my pockets. “I’ve only got twenty-three.”
Bridey approached me a minute later.
“Was that a pity buy?”
I shrugged. “I have a thing for boxes.”
In fact, I have lots of very nice boxes. But there’s nothing in any of them. My thinking is that they’re special so I can’t put just any old thing in them. It has to be just the right thing for the right box. The right thing hasn’t come along yet. But when it does, the right box will be waiting for it.
We had to pass the rescue booth to get back to the car. The black dog was still there, looking confused. I tried not to make eye contact. When we got home I set the box on my desk. It’s still there. I lift the top up every now and then. It’s still empty.
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013, all rights reserved.