A Man’s Best Friend

dog

Timber watching his master.

This dog! His name is Timber, and he belongs to our son Tim.

“I’ve never seen a dog that listens so well,” my friend said to me. We were sitting at the picnic table and Timber waited patiently at the end of the table, the plate of shrimp tails and shells at his feet, untouched.

Timber cocked his head, waiting. Yet he never moved his position or his poise. He just stood, waiting.

On the words, “Okay!” from his master, he scarfed up the food on the plate.

I’ve accused my son of being mean to make his dog wait so long to eat. He challenges me that it does not hurt his dog to know that he has to listen – and waiting a few minutes will not hurt him at all.

He’s right, you know. Timber is the best-behaved dog I have ever known, thanks to his Master.

Tim has taught his dog well. From the time Timber was brought to his new home as a 6-week old puppy, the two have been inseparable. Timber’s mother is a pure-bred German Shepherd. His father – a lab – came from who-knows-where.  Over Thanksgiving in 2010, we went to get two puppies for our place when Tim decided to ride along. We came back with three puppies – two for us and one for him.

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Timber and his sister siblings when they were puppies.

Whenever Tim has to be gone for several days and we “dog-sit”, Timber is not happy. He knows we love him and he knows there will be plenty of dog food and table scraps (his favorite), but he misses his Master. Sometimes he won’t eat until Tim gets back. Other days he eats only table scraps and no dog food. I suppose it’s his way of coping with his unhappiness.

Dave has little tolerance for animals in the house. Yet somehow when Timber arrives, the dog manages to be allowed to sit on the rug just inside the kitchen door. If I’m not around, he also manages to come further into the house. I like Timber, but I do not like dog hair on carpet or on sofas.

 

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The mascot of the boat. Timber always rides along.

Whether Tim is on his boat on Mayo Lake or driving one of his trucks, Timber is with him.

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Sometimes Tim’s business puts him on the road with a truck and trailer – and Timber is as much a part of the business as anyone else. Everywhere they go, Timber rides on the back of the trailer, moving from side to side to bark at other vehicles and their passengers. Sometimes, if it’s really cold or raining hard, he rides in the cab – but he is always wherever Tim goes.

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Timber even comes to church, but he stays outside. He stays either in the vehicle or under the vehicle – wherever Tim puts him and tells him to “Stay!”. On our annual Heroes of Faith night, he participated in the skit Tim performed for his character. Tim was Lazarus with sores on his legs, and Timber came bounding in to lick the “wounds” on Tim’s legs. You would have thought they had rehearsed the skit because it went so well.

Timber functions as a guard dog when his master ventures into precarious situations because of his business. He functions as a playmate for the many children who come in and out of our home. He serves as a watchdog wherever he goes. At the warehouse that houses Tim’s business, he is the mascot.

Most importantly, he serves as his master’s loyal and best friend.

dog

Always One in Every Litter

one in every litter

There’s always one. No matter how many are in a litter, there’s always one.

His name was Goldie.

Pinterest one in every litter

His fur was golden, which is why he was given the name Goldenrod. (Weren’t we original?!) Goldie came to our house along with a passel of other kittens and cats when our brother Jacob brought a large burlap bag full of felines to our home. Standing there in the yard, he heaved the bag onto the grass, turned it so the opening was at the bottom, and then lifted it high. In one big whoosh, the cats and kittens were out of there and gone. I’m not sure why Jacob brought the cats unless he thought we needed some mousers or some playmates – or both.

always one in every litter

In time, most of them became our friends. There was White Bib, a gentle calico cat who produced lovely and genteel kittens. We liked White Bib because she was a good mama and allowed us to play with her kittens.

And – there was Goldie, who – usually – patiently allowed us to use him as a child when we played church on the porch steps or loaded him up with other cats to go for strolls in the yard.  He was the biggest and the most fluffy, with claws that were quick and sharp.

There’s always one that sticks out, whether it’s cats, kittens, puppies, or kids. Always one who is a little different, one  in every litter.

We had our favorites – sometimes because a personality clashed with a particular cat. Some of us got along better with one than another. It was easy to hold a particular kitten more than that one because it was more loveable.

So when we chose “children” for our church service, each of us had specific ones we would rather have. There was always one in every litter.

always one in every litter

We also had a baby buggy- a real, honest-to-goodness baby buggy that we wheeled around the yard in our escapades of grocery shopping in our uncle’s fields. We’d plunk a cat down onto the soft padding of the buggy, and away we’d go. Sometimes Goldie complied, but most times he tried to escape. That’s because he meowed to his own heartbeat.

While he’d lie semi-contentedly on our laps during “church” on the porch steps, flopping his tail, he never quite acquiesced to the baby buggy. Goldie proved it the day he managed to escape from the buggy out of our reach and ran into the woods next to the house. ‘Only problem was, he was wearing a doll dress. It didn’t stop him in the least. Instead, he high-tailed it out of sight.

We were afraid he’d get caught up in brambles from that dress. It was a faded, pale blue dress with three buttons in the back. All three buttons were neatly buttoned up his back, the final one at the nape of the back of his neck.  We envisioned him trying to climb a tree or run from a dog, or the dress getting caught on brambles while he tried to run. We feared for his life, for Goldie certainly would not have been able to outrun or outclimb another animal.

We needn’t have feared.  A few days later, Goldie sauntered back into the yard. ‘Should have known, for he was that one in the litter! The dress had blood stains on it and one of my sisters refused to use that dress on her cats, even though it had been laundered.

always one in every litter

I suppose we could have been accused of animal cruelty. After all, we kept the cats encased in the baby buggy and would not allow them to escape because we needed real living beings to be our “children” as we played house. While our cats squirmed and clawed and meowed to beg for mercy, we kept them sequestered on our laps as we played church on the porch steps.

Maybe that’s why I’m still partial to cats. Strays keep finding their way to my house, and I keep feeding them, hoping to make mousers out of them. I’ve not been too lucky on that count. They’re either too wild or too lazy to catch mice for me.

one in every litter

A few years ago, Priscilla showed up at our door. Priscilla is gray and white instead of golden.  Priscilla is as fluffy and plump as Goldie was, and would be content to wear doll dresses, and certainly be cooperative when it comes to being a child while playing “church”.

Sometimes I’ve even wondered what it would be like to put Priscilla into a doll dress and see how she’d respond. I suppose she’d just curl up into a ball and purr to her heart’s content. She’s that cuddly and that lazy.  She’s the one in the litter. Yep, she’s different, all right.  She definitely purrs to her own heartbeat.

When we learn to embrace the difference, we find ourselves allowing that one to be different and to have that difference be okay.

one in every litter

When we learn not to try to make that one be like all the rest, we are embracing the difference.

Here’s the wisdom: Let that one in the litter keep on being that one in the litter!

Whether we’re talking about a litter of kids or of kittens, we do well to allow that one to be different rather than fighting that difference or trying to change its natural bent.

 

Pinterest always one in every litter

 

 

The Father Who Hated Cats and His Daughter Who Loved Them

cat kittens

We stopped to visit friends on our way back to Halifax County the other Sunday evening.  Amid the hugs and hellos, I noticed the kittens.  Eleven kittens, to be exact.   We picked them up and scratched their heads as they arched their backs and purred.  It was a cat lover’s paradise.

As we sat at dinner, I watched the antics of the kittens through the windows.  They tussled and tumbled, capered and bounced from tree to lawn.

“I can’t get over these kittens,” I said to the man of the house.  “What happened to the man who hated cats?”

He grinned at me, but he didn’t answer.  He didn’t need to.

cat black

I knew the answer, because there’s a story behind the kittens on their farm.  It’s more than just a story about cats.

It’s about a father and his little lass.

You see, there was a time when no cats were allowed at their house.  Even though Alison loved cats, her father didn’t.

“Cats scratch furniture,” he said.  “They shed hair.  They’re always underfoot.  Cats are nothing but a nuisance.”

Every time his daughter mentioned getting a cat, his response was simple and emphatic:  “No!”

But she was her father’s daughter, so she kept asking.

cat father daughter hug

“Please, Daddy,” she’d beg.   “I’ll take care of him all by myself.  You have a horse, and Nathan has a dog.  I just want a kitten of my own.”

Her birthday was coming in May.

Each time she was asked what she wanted for her birthday, her answer was the same:  “I want a cat.”

Finally, her father relented.

For her birthday, she got a cat – two of them, in fact.

One was a stuffed animal; the other was a wiggling, whiskery kitten.  He was little and playful, and black as night.

“I’ll call him Blackie,” she said, as she hugged him to herself.

cat black in house

Each morning she fed her kitten.  She gave him milk and fresh water. She gave him love, lots of hugs, and strokes.   He grew, and so did Alison.

She became attached to her kitten, and he to her.  He’d scamper outside and play at her feet.  Whether she slid down the slide, skipped with her jump rope, or hung upside down from the swing set her father had built, he was there.

Her father grew used to Blackie.  He became accustomed to watching as he opened the front door, to keep the kitten from slipping inside.  Yet he didn’t seem to mind when Blackie snuck in to sit on Alison’s lap.

He didn’t realize he was growing fond of his daughters’ kitten.

cat sunset sky

Then one warm evening in February, a man stopped at the house.  The father met him outside.

He was the only one who heard what the man had to tell.

“I ran over a black kitten,” the man said.  “Does he belong to you?”

“He belongs to my daughter,” the father replied.

The man offered to pay for the kitten.  He was so sorry, he said.

The cat had run out in front of his car, and he hadn’t seen him until it was too late.  He offered to be the one to tell the little girl what had happened.

The father wanted to tell his daughter himself.  He braced himself as he went inside, where the mother was putting dinner on the table.  Putting his arm around his little girl, he told her what had happened.

To his surprise, she didn’t cry.  She didn’t even seem to mind.

As they ate their dinner, the conversation centered on the death of the kitten.  They talked about heaven and souls and dead cats.

After dinner, the father went to get his shovel.

cat shovel

“I want to carry him myself,” his daughter said soberly, her lip quivering just a little.

They walked across the yard to the pasture nearby, the father with his shovel, the little girl with her dead kitten.

The father dug the grave, watching his daughter out of the corner of his eye.  When it was time to put Blackie in the hole, he reached for the kitten.  She pulled back.

Ever her father’s daughter, she wanted to do it herself.  She reached down and put the little black kitten in the ground.

Then she watched as her father covered him with dirt.

cat soil hand

Gently, her father took her hand in one of his.  Carrying his shovel in the other hand, he walked with her back to the house.

It was quiet and still.  There was no black bundle waiting to pounce at her feet.

On the back porch, he put his shovel down.

His little girl was sobbing now.

Gently, her father picked her up and sat down on a chair.

She buried her face in his shoulder, as he wrapped his arms around her.  And she cried.  How she cried!

He didn’t say anything as he held her.  He didn’t need to.

Yet she noticed even as she was absorbed in her own grief, that her father was crying, too.

She felt his tears as they ran down his cheeks and fell onto her head.

So they sat there in the darkness, holding each other; the big man who used to hate cats, and his little girl, crying together.

In the years since that winter evening, the daughter has grown and become a teenager.  Even now, when she hears folks compare God’s love to the love of a Father, she understands what they mean.

She can remember the shadowy twilight when she sat in the arms of her father and cried out her first deep ache and loss.

She will never forget that night, and the realization that she was not (and never will be) alone.

cat double rainbow

This story first appeared in a local community newsmagazine in 2000.  Later it was published in my book Southside Glimmers.  Alison is now a grown woman and a mother of three.  And her father is still there (and always has been) for his little girl.

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