By Rheta Grimsley Johnson
FISHTRAP HOLLOW – After losing Mabel, the yellow dog, I put up defenses. She’d be the last dog I’d treat like a child, the last one whose basket would hold all my emotional eggs. I swore it.
It hurts too much to say goodbye when you irrationally get close to a creature who, in all probability, will go to the bone yard before you.
I already had two other male dogs, but, in all honesty, they played second (and third) fiddle to Mabel’s vocals and lead guitar. She definitely was leader of this pack, the blond bombshell whose demeanor demanded we all were her love slaves, canine and human.
Enter Hannah. Hannah is a stepdaughter, a 15-year-old springer spaniel who came to the hollow with her master last Christmas. The boys, Boozoo and Hank, did not rejoice. There were a few unholy nights.
And I stuck to my plan to keep an emotional distance. Oh, I’d rub Hannah’s head and feed her treats, same as I did the other two, but I figured it was a losing proposition to fall head over heels for a dog already well into retirement. Besides, a springer wasn’t really my kind of dog. I generally like doggie dogs, not prissy, silky-haired purebreds that sashay about aware of their superior lineage.
Best-laid plans of mice and women go aft astray – and into the toilet.
Hannah has these eyes. They are not quite Bette Davis eyes, but Little Orphan Annie eyes if her creator Harold Gray had colored them in with his darkest ink. Big, sad, beseeching eyes. They bore holes in me on a regular basis. Still, I resisted.
We were in Colorado when it happened. It was on our customary early-morning walk. I had my two dogs on leashes that the city life required, and Hannah and her master were bringing up the rear. They often were stopped by pedestrians who wanted to pet Hannah.
I looked back. Hannah, who usually trotted along like a much younger dog, was having an arthritic stumble. She was showing, the way only a dog can, what is going to happen to us, the humans, in a few years. Dogs lead artfully compressed, illustrative lives that force us to acknowledge our own mortality.
Hannah slowed to a crawl, and the rest of us took it down a few notches to match her gait. And something about the vulnerability of the moment, the stark realization that Hannah and the rest of us aren’t going to be around forever, melted my resolve into a puddle of pretense. All of a sudden it was as if I’d raised her from a puppy, watched and loved her at every juncture of her long life. It just didn’t matter that loving her was going to hurt eventually. Love comes with no insurance policy against pain. Love, by definition, means the opposite.
Took a long walk in the Garden of the Gods.
Except for the rare moment, Hannah remained fine, almost puppyish, until about a month and a half ago. She’s finding it harder and harder to walk now, having lost most control of her back legs. She often sleeps on the rug beside me while I write, Hannah finding comfort in another sedentary type.
I watch her sleep and know it won’t be too long before she joins Mabel beneath pretty rocks across the branch. It is a rare privilege to know and love Hannah, even in these, her benedictory days.
Syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson lives near Iuka. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.