Fog has softened the sage-colored live oaks in the backyard to a slight purplish tone as they fade into the distance, where the view of the mountain is nothing more than a white cloud.
Toasty reddish-brown is the color of the field of weeds, which is blending into the foggy purple background, while the trunks of the trees are barely visible.
A pattern of sound, “dat dat dat dat dat dat dat dat dat,” quietly sets the mood as the sprinkles strike the tin roof of the porch, which is about 120 feet long and 12 feet wide. The entire front and back of the house is a giant covered porch.
My Dream House
I can remember being about 15 when I started working on my dream house plans in my mind. One day, I thought, it would be cool to have a big wide porch that wraps around the entire house, with a tin roof, so I can sit safe and dry during rainstorms.
As children we would play in our two-car garage and open the door during storms to see the rain coming down, watch the lightning, and hear the rumbling thunder — we used to say, “God is bowling again.” A smile comes to my face as I think about that time — some memorable moments in that little brown house at 5311 Indiana Avenue in Fort Wayne. We moved there when I was about 2 and stayed there until I was a junior in high school.
My Own Personal Zoo
That little garage raised chickens for a science fair project my brother did, we raised a mountain lion cub there until we had to donate it to the local zoo, and it was home to my dog Pepper, who I got from a litter at my grandmother’s sister’s house in Tennessee. When we first got Pepper he wasn’t allowed in the house, so he lived in the garage at night and would howl endlessly. My dad, who’d insisted Pepper was to live in the garage and that it would be warm enough, was the one to let him in the house on the first cold night. “Just for tonight,” he said, but Pepper owned the house from that point forward, and all slippers and couches became his chew toys.
As I write this, my eyes tear up because I’ve squashed the feelings of losing my first dog, my first best friend. One day we were all playing basketball in the driveway. Pepper was jumping to get the ball as my brothers and I passed it, but he had one bad habit we were unable to break. He loved to chase cars.
The Roar of a Sports Car
As we played, a sports car with a loud muffler went by, and as I flash back, I think he slowed as he passed our driveway, and then zoomed off with Pepper chasing and barking. Then he slammed on his brakes so Pepper was in front of him, swerved over, and ran him down.
Pepper picked himself off the pavement, staggered painfully over to us, and died in our arms.
I cried for months and remember being in school and trying to hold back the tears, much as I’m doing now.
This was premeditated murder. My brother hopped in his car, chased the car down, and saw it was a neighbor boy who lived way down at the end of the street. He just laughed and said he was tired of the dog chasing his car, so he decided to teach him a lesson. This boy’s parents owned a local cemetery, and I always wondered how someone could intentionally take the life of an animal like that, then laugh about it.
Maybe he’d become desensitized, or it was a basic lack of respect for life, or maybe he was just a spoiled brat who had a lot of issues. In any case, none of us were ever really the same after that day. A harsh reality of life was brought to light by this kid’s evil deed.
That was our last family dog. We simply could not endure the pain of losing another. And it was not until many years later, when Laurie and I got married, that I had a dog in my household, when we got two, Pooter and Leo. We’ve not replaced them, again because the pain of losing them is too great. I remember crawling inside a smelly cage at the vet and holding Leo for his final hours, and lying with Pooter, who lived to be 17, when he finally passed.
Comforting the Pain
Those who don’t have or never had pets often don’t realize how attached we get. When I see notices of passing pets on Facebook, I always try to reach out to comfort people because I’ve lived the same pain.
The kids have been pushing for another dog, something they want desperately. I wrote about it once before. But with college looming in two years, and the promise of more travel as the birds fly the nest, we’ve been resisting.
The Fine Art of Dogs
Maybe dogs are on my mind because this week artist Joanne Mangi stayed with us in the world famous artists’ cabin, where artists stay when they visit to shoot videos. She painted an amazing fine art portrait of my assistant Ali’s dog, Sam, for an upcoming pet portrait video. Joanne has six dogs, something I envy. What I love about her dog portraits is that they are fine paintings, like a fine portrait, that you would be willing to hang in your home. Nothing cheesy (no dogs playing cards).
Focus on the Good Times
It would be better to focus on all the times I laughed as a kid as I played with my dog, as he walked with me through the park, waiting for me to throw the ball. Though avoiding pain is a good reason to not get another, the joys of life with a canine friend can outweigh the tough moments when we have to say goodbye. Our pets lift our souls, stay at our side, rely on us to care for them, and show they’re happy to see us when others don’t.
What is that saying you see on bumper stickers? Wag more, bark less?
Wouldn’t it be great if you and I could be more like our dogs? Always happy to see others and expressing it. Enduring loyalty no matter how they are treated and complete, unconditional love.
That’s my mission for today. I’m going to wag more, bark less, encourage more, play more, and let those around me know that I’m endlessly loyal. What about you?