Friday, November 13, 2009

Fallen friend

God, five years have passed, I remember getting this call as though it were yesterday.

Published June 25, 2004 in the Keizertimes

I always wanted a dog.

As a child, my family attempted to care for two, but neither quite worked out the way we had intended.

The first ran away after about six weeks and we never saw him again. The second was Copper, a beagle.

My mother never really wanted an inside dog, so Copper was put outside at night. But we lived next door to my grandparents at the time, and Copper wasn't a dumb dog.

My grandparents already had one beagle, Barney, and whether to play or simply mooch a free meal of leftovers, it wasn't long before Copper had dug a hole under the fence.

No sooner than we put him out for the night, he was under the fence and at my grandparents' door. They, being grandparents, let him in and spoiled him rotten.

He became the family's dog, but he was still mine.

When my family moved to another part of town, Copper stayed with my grandparents. Still, whenever we went to visit, Copper flashed me his knowing grin. There is debate over whether dogs smile, but if you had ever seen Copper bare his teeth in happiness, you'd know like I do.

I missed Copper, but he was only 10 minutes away and I was content to know that he was being cared for by people who loved him just as much as I did.

A few years later my parents sat me down at the kitchen table on a Saturday morning. My dad handed me a list of names.

I had no idea what kind of name I was supposed to be looking for I just knew that they were rather odd names for a baby if my mom was pregnant. Then my dad let slip that the name had to be German.

It was then that I knew that we were going to be getting another dog, it turned out we were on the waiting list to receive a miniature schnauzer from the Purina Farms Kennel.

None of the names I had read on dad's list quite fit for a dog, they were almost too German to sound natural when calling out for one's best friend in the suburbs of the Midwest.

But another name struck me, Blitz. In school, I had been studying World War II and the German notion of the blitzkrieg, or lightning war. I shortened it to Blitz and my dad stretched it out to Blitzen because he wanted it to sound good when he was registered with the American Kennel Club.

Six weeks later, my dad drove my sister and I out to the kennel to pick up our new dog. Blitz shook all the way home.

He and I became fast friends and, in retrospect, the early time we spent together went much to quickly. I would often fall asleep on the couch with Blitz right there on my chest, but soon he outgrew such puppy-like traits.

He soon discovered the joys of playing catch and nothing seemed to excite him more than a ball twice the size of his head

For five years, throughout high school and my first year of college, Blitz was my dog. Then, bigger adventures called and I moved to Alabama to go to Auburn University. For the first year or two, Blitz hung around me all the time whenever I made it home for shorter and shorter visits. When I would leave, my parents would tell me that Blitz would check my room to make sure I wasn't there.

As time moved on I talked with my parents on the phone and he was invariably sitting by their side or racing around the house to avoid harassment by my sister's cat.

A few years later, I moved to Oregon and my visits home became even less frequent. When I did make it home, Blitz had changed his typical patterns of behavior. Where he once jumped at the chance to sleep in my room, he began sleeping in the hall as if torn between my parents and myself.

The last time I went home, I routinely found him sleeping in my parents' bedroom and I would have to carry him anywhere if I wanted him with me. By morning he was always back with them.

When I learned that Blitz died last month part of me was sad and another part was almost resentful of the bonds he had formed with my parents.

I've only regretted living 2,000 miles away from home twice and, in some ways, this time was the most painful. I just kept hoping that he remembered me for a second before he was gone.

I was jealous that my father was there to hold him and I wasn't, but I realized later that at least one of us was there and, in the end, it didn't matter which one. Blitz had become the family dog, loved equally by each one of us and right up till those final seconds, after 14 years, he was still the exhausting puppy that would drag us around the neighborhood on a leash.

Maybe, in a couple of years, I'll try it with the family I'm raising here. It was worth every minute.

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