I have often said over the years that if reincarnation is real, I want to come back in the next life as Joe Reeves’ dog. One of the great things about life is discovering the true nature of our friends and through the years Joe has shown me he is a gentle soul; his sharing and loving temperament has been best exemplified by how he has treated his dog.
I don’t know HotRod’s full story; when Cecelia and I moved back to Grayson County in 2002 he was already with Joe, and when Joe was home you didn’t have to look far to find HotRod, always keeping an eye on his master. This isn’t to say that HotRod was a home body per se; there were plenty of times he was called to simply “take a walk”, cross Peach Bottom Creek and be gone for a few hours, doing whatever it is that dogs do when they are alone. It seemed that everyone in that end of the county knew this dog, because of course everyone here knows Joe. He would never be gone too long, and always returned home, dirty and stinking and happy as a clam. No matter how many times this happened, always there was Joe, with bath and brush, to get his buddy back in presentable trim.
I think that’s the one thing I most admired about Joe’s relationship with his dog, that he let HotRod be a dog—because that is what God intended when He sent that first wolf to the hearth of man, to be His eyes and ears in man’s life, and to keep watch over His greatest creation. The dog that evolved from that humble beginning was allowed to keep certain traits, but in turn was required to be ever vigilant in defending his home, and forever devoted to his chosen master. I really believe that to allow, sometimes, for our dogs to simply be dogs, that we are allowing our animals to visit their ancestral past, and this is one of the finest things we can do to let these animals know how much they mean to us.
One year HotRod took a walk and disappeared; Joe could not find him anywhere and after two days was near panic. He visited virtually everyone that lives in his area and put the word out to be on the lookout for his dog. Finally when he had just about given up a friend from up the road called Joe and told him he had seen HotRod come through his yard, headed back toward Joe’s house. Sure enough, that next morning when Joe went out to check the open kennel, there was HotRod, and in the doghouse behind him was a muddy, skinny Golden Retriever bitch that Joe had never seen before. She was wearing a bandanna, her only adornment, and Joe spent the next week trying to find her owner. No one came forward and it was decided that she had probably been abandoned by a traveler passing through the county. So, Joe being Joe, and HotRod being HotRod, they adopted this new addition to the family. Their reward was swift and soon “Gracie” (short I guess for “God’s Grace”) blessed them with 10 fine puppies, little replications of HotRod (and one black pup, no comment there). I remember seeing Joe at the grocery store with two carts full of dog chow, soft dog food, condensed milk and other wonderful nutritious items for the new mother and her litter. I don’t know how much Joe ended up spending on those animals, but he always had a huge smile on his face when we ran into him and couldn’t wait to tell us about their progress. Of course HotRod was always close at hand around the pups and if a dog can exhibit pride, HotRod was the picture of that. I think it was his way of giving back to Joe.
At 6 weeks since the birth Joe had a “going away” party for the pups, and invited those lucky folks from the area that he had decided were worthy of giving a home to HotRod and Gracie’s puppies. We were so honored that Joe allowed my wife Cecelia to have pick of the litter, and she chose the biggest male puppy and named him Roy. He was Cecelia’s first dog all her own, and although his story was a short one, only 4 years, he made an indelible mark on our lives. Although Joe and I had been friends since college, we were now forever tied to this man and his dog family.
We started gardening on a plot of land Joe let us use just across Peach Bottom Creek from his house, and we were constantly over there throughout the spring and summers. When HotRod was loose he would cross the creek and come visit us, always wagging and ready to “mark his territory” around the edges of the garden. This we didn’t mind at all, because it kept the varmints out of our vegetables and it was always a joy to rub the old boy, and give him a good back-scratching, which of course he always enjoyed. When Joe was not home HotRod was locked in his kennel, and every time we were at the garden when Joe came home, the dog would start barking seconds before Joe’s car would appear down the road. HotRod watched and listened for him. I have this picture in my mind of Joe and HotRod walking together, side-by-side, back across the creek bridge from our garden to their home, a scene I saw countless times after they visited us at the garden over the years. It makes me realize that one of the most important lessons our dogs teach us is the importance of living in the moment; for a dog, what he knows is when you disappear and when you come back, not the time in-between. We could all take a lesson from HotRod.
Of course there is a hard part in the story of loving a dog and HotRod’s story is no different. I’d like to believe that being the rogue and rascal he was, and such a brave good boy, he was called to cross the river this time, to scout out the new country and find for Joe a place dry and warm, and to wait for him to come when his work here is done. I want Joe to know that HotRod won’t be alone over there, that I know there are some other good dogs already there that will be waiting with him; but when Joe arrives someday on that far shore it will be HotRod that comes to meet him, and he will be the one to walk with Joe to meet God. I can’t think of any better company.
It comforts me to know that in the meantime, HotRod will be watching.