I received something horrible in the mail last Saturday. It was my invitation to an exclusive club that could bring me a multitude of money-saving opportunities. That’s right, I got my invitation to join the AARP. Jerks.
Somehow these people were under the suspicion that I was about to turn 50. I think that it had something to do with my birth certificate, which also was under that belief.
I told my wife that in order to make lemonade out of lemons, I could write about this major milestone in my life. I thought that a look back at a half-century of my foibles would be the perfect fodder for a humorous newspaper column. This was going to be the easiest column that I had ever written. It practically writes itself.
And then my dog died.
Fireball was a black and white farm dog. He always reminded me of a dog that we had out on the farm when I was a kid. Tojo, (I’m not sure how we came up with the name) was pure black and lived somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 years. I can tell you the precise place in the farmyard I told my final good-byes to Tojo on the day that she died.
Because of the way I felt that day, I vowed that I would never have a dog for a pet. Cats will wander off when it’s time, and you just never see them again. A dog will get old and die right in front of your eyes. I hate that. No dogs for me.
And then along came Fireball.
He showed up as a stray pup one day. He quickly became my mom and dad’s dog. Dad would take him for walks, and Mom would feed him hamburgers from McDonalds. Right up until the day she caught him burying them in the backyard. When my family and I moved out to the farm last year, Fireball became our dog. My dog.
For the past 15 years, Fireball was the guardian of the farm. I doubt if there was a handful of times that anybody made it on the property or drove by without hearing the dog’s bark. It was his job to alert us that the barriers of the kingdom had been breached.
The farmyard has a driveway that circles around the house and by the barn and chicken house, and everyday when I came home, Fireball would greet me and prance along next to the Jeep as I drove around the driveway and pulled up by the house. Upon getting out of the vehicle, he would give me a couple of sniffs to make sure I hadn’t been messing around with any other canines that day, and then he would then lead the procession to the front door barking my triumphant return.
At the beginning of this week, we could tell that Fireball didn’t have much time left. He was old, and things were shutting down. I was praying that he would just lay down, take a nap, and not wake up. Fireball evidently had other plans. He had a house to watch over. On the day before my birthday, l let him outside, and he barked at a car driving by. I looked at him and asked, “Really?” He could hardly walk, but he still was guarding the castle.
I spent much of that night laying on the kitchen floor with him, petting him and trying to talk him into taking that nap. By dawn of that next day, which was my birthday, we looked at each other and agreed that it was time. Late that afternoon, as we dug Fireball’s grave, an eagle flew over. I don’t know what kind of sign that is, but it has to be good doesn’t it?
The morning after we buried Fireball, which was the day after my birthday, I sadly walked out to his grave to pay my respects. In all of the hubbub of the previous day, I hadn’t really gotten a chance to do that. We had placed him in the middle of a strawberry patch not too far from a tree that he liked to lay under on warm, sunny summer days. He used to stand guard and keep me company, as I crouched down picking the ripened red berries.
Choking back tears, I gazed down at the freshly turned over dirt that was already beginning to re-freeze in the frigid February morning air. Standing there shivering, I realized that I was a 50-year-old guy who had become accustomed to a very structured morning routine. I get up, shower, lay back down in bed, get up again, make a little breakfast, make sure the rest of the house is waking up, let the dog out, feed and water the cats and rabbits, let the dog back in, check his water and food, wait for the school bus and so on and so forth. Every day, right before I leave for work, I scratch the top of Fireball’s head and tell him to watch the house. I guess that I’ll have some extra time in the mornings from now on.
I again vow that I’ll never have another dog, but I have a 10-year-old daughter with big blue eyes that knows how to get me to change my mind sometimes. I guess we’ll have to see.
Rest in peace Fireball. Say hi to Tojo.
You can contact Greg Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on his blog at http://gregwallaceink.blogspot.com.