It usually starts with a second glance. Then a wistful look followed by a hesitant approach. The stranger walks up tentatively, arm extended. The handshake is not intended for the upper end of the leash. Ralph gives a tentative sniff of approval. I could be invisible. To our new friend, I am.
"You look just like Blossom. You have her same face, her same eyes and nose." Ralph, enjoying the attention, does his best to console. She scritches and the lovefest begins. I settle in.
Finally noticing me, she straightens up. "I had her for fifteen years. She was part of the family." I nod, understanding exactly what she means and think back to our pre-dog days, when we just couldn't understand some folk's attachment to their pets (and sometimes vice versa.)
My good friend Mike, knowing his beloved "hound dog" was seriously ill, took her alone to their favorite fishing spot. Goldie splashed and played like a puppy the entire weekend. On the ride home, she slept contentedly curled on the front seat. That Monday she left for the big blue pond in the sky.
"You only get one good dog in your life" he told me the following week. Mike's wife of twenty-two years agrees.
Reilly, the gigantic golden retriever with the heart of puppy, was a constant in my brother's life during good times and bad. Nancy sat with her family dog through numerous transfusions in order to give them all more "golden days" which she did. Bill keeps a photo of Amber the long haired dachshund on his credenza.
Once an overzealous and misguided vet imprisoned Ralph after he chewed some contraband gum. Forcibly inducing back up the offending candy wasn't enough for the poor dog. After a couple days of solitary confinement, I asked if I could hold the visibly upset pup. Hugging tight the shaking little guy, I whispered in his ear, "I'm getting you out of here." Refusing to let go, we walked out the front door together, and never went back. Three years later, he's just fine, but not too fond of gum.
He's do the same for me, if he could.
Looking past me, the woman smiles down at Ralph. "Treasure every moment with him." I give her my solemn promise, she nods and moves on.
Ralph and I continue along the path around the sparkling lake, his head held high, sniffing for wildlife and hoping for more kind strangers with scritches.
I look up at the clear blue sky, and see him. The puppy in the sky. At least I think I do?
What do you think?