Mom and I arrived home from work, she from Sears and I from Hardee’s, at 6:00 that evening. I had worked an eight hour shift, and it was all I could do to drag myself into the house, but we lived on a farm, and I knew there wouldn’t be much rest until after the peas were picked. We ate hurriedly, and Mom, Dad, and Libby headed out to the garden. I hesitated at the door.
I knew I needed to be out there picking peas with the rest of my family, but I just couldn’t seem to make my body move. What was wrong with me?!? Why was I so lazy?!? Why did it seem so hard to do what everyone else seemed to be doing with ease. I felt my neck. It hurt to touch it, and my throat was scratchy. Lady sat down at my feet and looked up at me with imploring eyes. I knew she understood how tired I was; it showed in the large dark pools that were her eyes. I opened the door and put one foot in front of the other until I got to the garden. Lady followed me out.
I slipped into a row of peas next to Mom and bent over to help pick My head pounded. I couldn’t do this…I couldn’t.That’s the last thing I remember before Mom made me go to the doctor. Sure enough, the blood tests showed I had Mononucleosis–Mono And that was the end of life as usual for the next two months. I had to stop working both at Hardee’s and at home.
Oddly enough, I have fond memories of that summer–three memories to be exact. Those three memories are sitting at the sewing machine to sew for a few minutes at the time, lying on the couch most of the time, and having Lady by my side all the time. She was my companion and friend that whole summer. I cannot begin to explain the comfort she gave me through those days. Just having her there helped me to feel better.
Lady came to us a stray. She was young, probably no more than three years old, and her belly was so round and big that it looked like she had swallowed a basketball. I’m sure she was dropped in the road near our house because her owners didn’t want to deal with a litter of pups. They had to know enough about us to know that we were dog lovers, and that’s probably why they dropped her on top of our hill.
She met Libby and me in the driveway as we walked up the hill after getting off the bus. We stopped short when we saw her, and our hearts melted immediately when she sat down in front of us with her belly squashing out on either side. The lack of a collar around her neck confirmed that she was a throw-away, but unlike so many unwanted dogs, her throw-away day became the luckiest day of her life. She found us and claimed us as her own. Three days later, she gave birth to her litter of puppies in our barn. She had settled in for good. For the next fourteen years, she was.a treasured part of our family, so much so that she broke through barriers none of our dogs ever had.
Once Lady became a part of our family, her influence over us and our behavior grew. In her quiet but persistent way, she changed our family. Mom was the first to fall prey to her charm. She had always been adamant that none of our dogs were ever allowed in the house. Why she gave Lady access to the inside of the house, I don’t know, but not long after all the puppies had been given away, Lady had a box in the family room. In no time, she claimed the family room as her domain. From there, it was only a matter of time until Lady’s box replaced Mom’s rocker next to Daddy’s chair. In other words, Lady overthrew Mom and took her place of honor.
Lady often joined us for meals, sitting on the floor next to Daddy. She never stooped so low as to beg for tidbits from the table, but if they didn’t come soon enough, she quietly started to drool, first from one side of her mouth, then the other, and finally, both at the same time. Sharing our meal with her was much easier than cleaning up all the drool puddled on the floor!
Lady was also the first dog to travel with us. She loved riding in the car, and she often joined us on trips to my grandparents’ homes and on picnics. She always reserved the front seat which meant that even Mom had to ride in the back if the car had bucket seats in the front.
With the passing of time, Lady became the center of much entertainment for all of us. Because she was had so much personality, we began to project situations onto her and develop responses that fit her character. Some of them were just silly, but we had the best time playing along, and Lady was no worse for our fun.
For example, Lady became our chief security officer. Her main responsibility in this capacity was to keep the lions, tigers, and bears away. She performed excellently. We never had a single run-in with a lion, a tiger, or a bear! It was also Lady’s responsibility to make sure the other dogs’ plates stayed shiny clean. This kept her occupied for quite some time each day since we had five other dogs. She carried out the same duties for the neighbors down the road. (This might help explain the stovepipe shape and 40+ pounds she carried around.) Lady also became the family’s supervisor on any job any of us did. Whether it was cutting wood, planting garden, putting up hay, building fence, or any of a myriad of other chores, Lady was right there with us, making sure the job progressed smoothly.
She was also in charge of the other dogs, and her word was law. She especially wielded her power over their housing arrangements. Somehow she convinced Daddy that she needed a nicer home than any of the other dogs, and he built her one any dog would have been eager to live in. But that wasn’t enough for Lady. She would get bored and want a change of pace, so she never hesitated to move in with one of the other dogs. And if she felt ornery enough, the other dog ended up sleeping outside while Lady slept soundly in his house.
Lady was so much more than all these things, though. In her quiet way, she provided comfort to all of us at one time or another. Sometimes, you just need to be alone and pet your dog while you’re crying your eyes out over some of Life’s biggest hurts and disappointments. Lady took on this job with grace. She would sit next to me, leaning in against my leg, and looking up at me. She seemed to suck all the hurt and pain I felt right out of me and dispel it into thin air.
For fourteen years, Lady made our lives better and our home a happier place to be. Lady was more than a pet. She was family, and when her time came to move on, she did that with grace as well. Our home and hearts were empty without her for a long time. Eventually, though, the emptiness subsided, leaving only warm memories behind.
I expect to see Lady again, you know. We are taught that Heaven is more extraordinary than we can possibly imagine, and I believe that is so. I also know that I can’t imagine a heaven without dogs. That’s how I know Lady along with all the other dogs I have loved will be there with the rest of my loved ones to greet me when I arrive.