Today, I said good-bye to my faithful friend, Gracie Ellen. I petted her head, her fur still soft and golden. Her eyes, dim with age, glanced up at me as tears rolled down my face unabashedly. I thought about all the joy she selflessly gave to me through the years as I said good-bye. I knew it was her time. I cried as I kissed her and told her I loved her. I left for school. My grown sons and husband cried with me. Would she be there when I returned?
I met her 15 years ago, less 3 months, at a farm up north. Two tiny puppies were laying in the hand of the farmer. Both, with eyes still closed and almost hairless, cuddled together. One sleeping quietly, the other half-lying on her sister and whimpering for her mother. “We’ll take the sleeping one,” I announced without consulting anyone else in the family. I knew about dogs that sat on their siblings, and I wasn’t going through that again. A pink satin ribbon was all that recorded the choice.
On the way home, we debated her name, but Gracie Ellen seemed so perfect for her that that was that. After all, when the kids started praying for a dog, my mom wisely warned me to start praying for “a good dog.” And so I did! And that is how Gracie Ellen got her nickname, “the prayed-up pup.”
Two weeks later, the puppy was weaned and riding in her crate (so gigantic then) in the back of the burgundy and tan Suburban. All the kids were with us, all happily chattering about the new puppy. The first night, she whimpered so pathetically that my husband moved her into our room and put his hand on her all night. That was all it took. After that, she was a part of the pack and didn’t long for her former life.
I was skeptical about dogs, after all, our last dog was a real rascal and was not that enjoyable. But this little fluffball won my heart when, out in the back yard, she came running over as fast as her little legs could carry her, straight to me, with a humongous stick in her mouth. It must have been 3 times her size! Who couldn’t love a little puppy like that?
Then, that was the hard, thesis year. It was my first year back working full time after staying home for 18 years being a full-time mom. It was the last year of my master’s program, too. It was unbelievably hard. I’d wake up at 2:00 in the morning, get up, and work on my assignments, and later, my thesis. My little friend was never too busy or tired to come over and cuddle up on my feet, keeping them warm and giving moral support. We had a special bond after that.
In the summer, she’d be tethered to my belt as I hung up laundry in the summer breezes. Later, no tether was needed as we worked together to hang out the wash. A full laundry basket on one hip, and Gracie on the opposite heel. She’d lay patiently in the shade while I finished my work, and then get up and trot back in with me. We made a pretty great team.
Of course, the kids were part of her pack, and they’d often be seen playing together. Like the time the kids hitched her up to the scooter and had her pull them around the block. Or, the time she went up the ladder of the play house just to be with them. She came down the slide after them, too.
You’d think swimming would be an instinct with Goldens, but no. Not for Gracie. Whenever she tried to swim and her feet left the bottom of the lake, she panicked! Frantically splashing and paddling and with terror-filled eyes, she’d quickly return to shore. That wasn’t the life for her. Until one day…she saw a stick splash out a little ways from shore. She swam after it, retrieved it, and wanted more and more and more. After that she loved swimming so much that one time, she took off swimming without waiting for us to throw the stick! We thought she was going to swim all the way to Michigan! Off came my husband’s shoes as we kept throwing stick after stick and calling for her to come back. Getting ready to rescue Gracie, my husband started in. At the moment, Gracie saw the splash of a rock in her periphery vision and turned toward the splash. Then, she saw the next stick we threw. Retrieving it, she proudly swam to shore, much to our relief. She had found her calling in life! She was a Retriever!
Gentle and intuitively knowing, my mother-in-law (and the other elderly people in the care center) felt the joy of having my 80 pound Golden Retriever gently put her head in her lap to be petted. How did Gracie know to be so careful and gentle? How did she know that Grams had arthritis and was in pain?
Whenever a stroller went by with a little baby or toddler, gentle Gracie would sit quietly while they squealed and petted and pulled her ears or hair. No growling. No nips. She knew. She knew to be careful.
Then there was the time when we thought she was dying. How did we know? She stopped wagging her tail, stopped looking up with her doggy smile. Something was wrong. She had her head on my lap as I cried and cried, thinking this was the end. She just looked up at me with her chocolate, eye-liner eyes as if to say, “I”m sorry it hurts.” Happily, that time, we cheated death with surgery for her. But, that “near-death-experience” served to spoil her rotten. Mischievous, but generous children, would slyly slip her some table food. A bite of pizza, a piece of hamburger, a part of a cookie. She never ate so well. She never got table food before! “After all,” they’d say, “she almost died!”
I could write and write and write happy little vignettes about Gracie and me and the family. This could be a novel. I hope you see why I have to write, to let you get to know, in some small way, this friend of mine. She was the best dog ever. I still say it was because she was a “prayed up pup.” Maybe it the love, too. All the love she kept giving and giving and giving. We loved her in return, but I think it was only a paltry down payment compared to what she gave to us. Our lives were so rich, and still are with the beautiful memories and selfless love she gave us!
Good-bye, faithful, old friend. I miss you!