Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
One weekend morning as the temperatures suddenly made long sleeves preferred, I saw a young mother with her son and his dog taking a walk up a neighborhood street.
An immediate flashback thrust itself into my mind’s eye-those days when our son was a boy and he and his dog, Dusty, were inseparable. I can reflect back and see him and Dusty playing in the front yard together-rambunctious and energized. They wrestled and roughhoused for what seemed to be hours. His dog made him laugh. Dusty was his best friend.
As a kid he would walk up to a local pharmacy in Five Points and get an ice cream cone and walk home, sharing his ice cream with Dusty. It was a memorable scene, which also reminded me that parents today probably would not let a five-year-old kid make a neighborhood trek like that by himself.
The simple things in life, the things we treasure most, are often taken away by the world we know today. Our kids can still share their ice cream cones with their dogs, but letting them out of our sight at a tender age is something we consider inadvisable.
Kent found out about Dusty from a friend whose family dog had a litter of puppies. Dusty was a mixed-breed. His father was a golden retriever, but there was no information about his partner. Dusty was the “runt” of the litter, and Kent was attracted to him right away. Dusty had a coat of light brown hair, owing to his parental heritage, which is how he got his name.
We had trouble house breaking Dusty, which caused much frustration. “We’ll just keep him in my room and my bed,” Kent said. “If he has an accident in my room that will be okay.” The bonding was immediate and steadfast-heartwarming and touching-but accidents certainly were not “okay” with his mother.
If we let Dusty out of the house, he would run away but usually returned at some point. If he went missing overnight it caused great consternation. There were tears at bedtime. Somebody might be mistreating Dusty somewhere. Prayers were said, beseeching and humble requests, that Dusty would come back to us safe and sound.
Once Dusty returned not in mint condition. It was obvious that some bigger dog had inflicted bodily harm, but a visit to Ray Turk, our friend and veterinarian, got Dusty back in good order. Before long he and Kent were in the front yard, playing and wrestling for long hours. Like the best of friends-which they were.
The life expectancy of a golden retriever is twelve years. Dusty, part golden retriever, didn’t live that long. When he died, I had taken Kent to a Super Bowl, which was played in Miami. We left when Dusty was sick. We had placed him with the vet before leaving town and had no idea we would never see him again.
The Super Bowl trip was one of great boding. We spent time in the Keys. He went scuba diving, something that was special for him. We drove to Key West, where we watched the sun set at Mallory Square. We toured Hemmingway’s home and enjoyed the best in seafood.
In Miami, we stayed with friends. The host was a retired former writer for Sports Illustrated. He had covered previous Super Bowls, but had had his fill of crowds, traffic, and the over-hyped event, but Kent was very excited. He was a big fan of Joe Montana and the 49ers. They won.
A call from home disclosed that Dusty had died, but I did not want to ruin his trip. Waited until we were about 20 miles from home to tell him. “Dr. Turk has Dusty at his morgue if you want to bury him in the back yard.” Kent said, “No,” and nothing more. Never tried to figure out why he made that decision. Dusty’s life was over, que sera, que sera-but we’ll always have grateful memories. Often I pause in our yard and reflect back on Dusty’s time with us. There’s nothing in life to appreciate more than a boy and his dog.
Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.