When I was ten, Beauty died. “It’s time,” my parents told us three girls. Mother shuttled my younger sister Leslie and my older sister Jane into the old purple Studebaker and drove off leaving my father and me to take care of Jane’s first dog. Looking like a bald version of Ichabod Crane, Daddy the farm-boy strode down the hill past the vegetable garden to Beauty lying in the field next to the road. “Hello, Beauty, hello, Girl,” Daddy’s voice a natural fundamental bass. Beauty lifted her head and smiled her toothy grin in my father’s direction. Gently, Daddy the doctor cradled Beauty in his long arms, nestled her body against his chest, and slowly carried her up the hill for the last time.
While Daddy settled Beauty on an old blanket under the sugar maple tree in the front yard, I remembered how she used to sit patiently during our summertime picnic dinners. If there was a bone, Beauty had to wait because my younger sister always had first dibs. Leslie would gnaw the bone, look at Beauty and ride her tricycle around the yard, teasing the dog or maybe Leslie just wanted attention. Beauty wasn’t very smart, but she had a good memory. One winter day, Jane and Beauty found an opossum. Holding him by the tail and grinning ear-to-ear, Jane showed off her latest pet – he was grinning, too. Looking out the dining room window, Mother shouted, “Let him go, he’s hissing, he might have rabies!” When Jane finally set him down, the opossum continued to play dead, waiting for Beauty to get distracted, which didn’t take very long. He scooted across the lawn and climbed the nearest tree, Beauty in pursuit. She barked at that opossum until long after dark and remembered to bark up that tree almost every day until the day she died.
Kneeling next to Beauty under the leafy green canopy, Daddy filled a syringe with liquid from one of the do-not-touch bottles kept in the refrigerator. He parted Beauty’s matted fur and inserted the needle. With her head in my lap, Beauty fell asleep. She was a collie and we girls her flock. Wherever we wandered, Beauty was our shepherd, in the snow nipping and stealing our mittens and boots as we tobogganed down the hill in front of the house. Our “No, no!” squeals never changed Beauty’s herding instinct, which included chasing cars, trucks and the school bus. Flying down the hill, her tail like a whirly-gig, Beauty almost caught the moving bus one day, or the other way around when she miscalculated and slid under and out the other side, miraculously without a scratch. Over the years, Beauty would habitually lie down in the field next to the road, watching for us to come home from school. In some ways, we girls were like Beauty, sitting at the end of the driveway, watching for Daddy to come home from work. When Mother wasn’t looking and it was a good day, Daddy would stop and let us perch on the Chevrolet’s running board. Hanging on tight as he slowly drove up the driveway, all of us yip-yelled including Beauty running along side. But arthritis conquered the shepherd’s will, and then she lay still.
In rigor mortis, Beauty’s eyes widened, her lips pealing back from her teeth. “That’s ok, Beauty, that’s ok, Girl,” Daddy crooned, and I said the same hoping to ease Beauty as much as my father’s words comforted me. Holding her as best I could, Beauty’s legs stretched awkwardly as she stiffened. So this is death. Deep inside, I buried this fearful secret entrusted to me while my father buried Beauty in the field next to the road, her favorite spot. And when my mother and sisters finally returned, we didn’t say a word.
What was your First Dog?