|photo © Janice Lang|
Memories can be tricky little devils. Some are so crystal clear that no manner of dispute by people who were there can derail our version of that particular truth, even if it might be a tad faulty. They can be faded sepia by time like an old photograph, or replayed in the mind like a scratchy copy of an 8mm home movie. Others are dim recollections, fragments here and there, disconnected one from another, some even running together to form one imperfect memory. And then there are other those that remain intact throughout our lives, complete with enough sensory imagery to recall every detail.
I retain a number of such memories, some from earliest childhood…like when I was two or three and I made my first snowman (a tiny one, about the size of a baby doll) outside our apartment in the Bronx. I didn’t want to part with it, even as my mother insisted it was time for a nap. Eventually she acceded to my demands and let me take it upstairs, where we put it in the bath tub for safekeeping. Not understanding the properties of snow at the time, I woke from my nap and eagerly made a beeline to the bathroom, only to find a puddle, my red woolen scarf, and a couple of pieces of coal where my masterpiece had been. A lesson in disappointment.
My all-time favorite memory from childhood is quite the opposite. After over 60 years, it remains as vivid as yesterday.
I was six years old on Christmas Eve in 1956, when my dad took me to the gas station to have snow tires put on my mom’s car. I don’t remember why I went along with him to Frank’s Amoco, but there I was in the office, standing face-to-face with a glossy little stub-tailed black mutt. Sitting by the door to the bays on an oil-stained spot, he reacted with a joyful countenance as soon as he saw me enter. We struck up a conversation (mostly one way). But he had an expressive face and cocked his ears in a most appealing way, tilting his head when I spoke, as if he understood everything I said.
Time soon came for the car to get moved into the shop, so we all filed back out onto the blacktop. The day was chilly and blustery (I’d been wearing mittens, which I’d taken off inside). Just as we stepped out the door, a mighty blast of wind took one of my mittens and blew it across the lot. I watched in a dull sort of stupor as the mitten flew on a swirling gust and then kicked around at the curb. Before I could take a step toward it, the dog tore off, picked it up, trotted back to me, and dropped the mitten at my feet. And there was that look he gave me as he sat gazing up so expectantly, wagging his little tail….
I thought he had to be the smartest dog in the world (on a par with Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin), and I told him so. Together we climbed into the back seat of my mother’s 1955 Rambler and went up on the lift while the mechanic changed the tires. All the while we talked about what it would be like if he could come home and live with me. I told him about my two sisters and our mom, our house and yard, and “the pit,” which was the greatest place on earth for us kids to play. Like the world’s biggest playground surrounded by acres and acres of trees, and slopes to sled down in winter, picking blueberries and blackberries in summer….
The whole time we were up there on the lift, Frank and my dad had been involved in what looked to be a conspiratorial conversation, and when the dog and I got out of the car, my father was smiling from ear to ear.
“Do you want that dog?” Frank asked with a wink at my dad.
I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. It just couldn’t be true. But when I glanced up at my father, heart thumping with wild expectation, anticipating a let-down, he grinned at me like a little boy and nodded. Of course I wanted the dog, and so did he it seemed, almost as much I did.
I guess Frank was relieved that the stray mutt had found a
place to live and be loved. He explained that the dog had shown up at the gas
station a few days before and hung around day and night following the mechanics
as they went about their business—a kind of a nuisance—but they fed him scraps
from their lunchboxes and he slept in the shop and earned his keep watching
over the place. They called him Shadow, and that was to be his forever name.
|Shadow and me, circa 1964|
My mom wasn’t thrilled—not one bit—and it took all we had to convince her that I would walk him, feed and clean up after him. Finally, she gave in, albeit reluctantly. After all, he was smelly and grungy with grease and dirt. So we gave him a bath in the tub. With all that filthy, soapy water gurgling down the drain, I fully expected him to turn white.
For the first few weeks, Shadow would manage to get out of the house and disappear from morning until supper time. We soon discovered that he spent that time hanging out at his old place of employment (a goodly trek, I might add)…until he discovered Paul the mailman. For a couple of years he even got picked up and dropped off at our house on the days Paul’s route was scheduled through our neighborhood. He became the most famous dog in our part of Massapequa. Wherever we went (he followed me on my bicycle), kids would always shout, “Hey, isn't that the mailman’s dog?”
Shadow retired from the US Postal Service when Paul was replaced (I learned from my mother later in life that he was a bit of a Lothario).
For the remainder of his life Shadow’s only job was as friend, protector, clown and trickster. He also had a lot of Scrappy-Doo in him, often getting into fights with much larger dogs and paying the price. But he survived the follies of his youth to remain with us for 14 years before crossing over the Rainbow Bridge a week shy of Christmas Eve, 1970. By that time we had shared countless adventures and had lots of fun together. And I had a trove of stories to tell my kids as they grew up. Maybe one day I'll write them down.
Kathy Fischer Brown is a BWL author of historical novels, Winter Fire, "The Serpent’s Tooth" trilogy: Lord Esterleigh's Daughter, Courting the Devil, The Partisan's Wife, and The Return of Tachlanad, an epic fantasy adventure for young adult and adult readers. Check out her Books We Love Author page or visit her website. All of Kathy’s books are available in e-book and in paperback from Amazon, Kobo, and other online retailers.