Old Canine friends: More than just a dog.

To this day I am not sure how I got there or exactly why. All I do know is at the lowest, and most devastating, point in my life I found peace at a gravesite of my first canine friend.

The funeral was finally over, and everyone had shed their tears, said their goodbyes, wiped their cheeks and walked away. That is everyone except me.  Dad fought his battle against cancer for several years and the results were simply extended suffering. When he finally made his choice to stop fighting, I understood. The problem is that understanding and being ready for his decision were two vastly different things.

 I had that same hollow and empty feeling as when we buried Sam, our last bird dog. Something was missing and I couldn’t shake that feeling. On one hand, I thought “hell I am a soldier and not supposed to get emotional”. On the other, I yearned to be able to cry and express my loss like a normal human being. 

After the funeral, and between all the “I am sorry for your losses” and the plethora of covered dishes, I managed to sneak in and hold his 16-gauge Ithaca featherweight for a while. That shotgun was the upper end of upland bird guns when he bought it. However today it was all I had left to connect me to the past. I closed my eyes and tried to recall the last time I saw him carry it.

 I caressed the dings in the stock, the worn places in the forearm, and the small pits in the bluing, Nothing! No emotions, no tears, and not many memories.

That didn’t help at all. 

At this point I was out of both patience and cigarettes, so I politely excused myself so I could resupply and head back to Fort Campbell. I finally found a convenience store that was open, but the clerk knew my father and proceeded to tell me what a great man he was. I truly wanted to just say “No kidding I grew up with the man”, but I smiled and said yes sir he certainly was. 

The next few days were and remain a blur. I couldn’t get my head out of my ass and figure out what was missing…

“Was I going crazy?”

“Had I turned into an emotionless jerk?”

So, I left the post on a Friday on a collision course with a bar and some high-octane tequila. I never made it to the bar, nor did I get that tequila-induced haze I was looking for.

I don’t know how I got there, or why I ended up there. The next real thought that went through my head was 8 hours later at a farm gate in Michigan. At first, I thought perhaps I was dreaming and closed my eyes, after all, I had not slept for days. I visualized the farm where my father and I first hunted upland birds together. It was Friday’s farm. I sat there half-asleep wondering why I couldn’t seem to cry.  Then I opened my eyes and realized I was not dreaming; I was sitting at the gate to that very farm!

I couldn’t figure out why I was even there. We left Michigan over a decade earlier and up until that week, I have only had passing thoughts about this place.

As the sun warmed up the horizon, and the realization that I was at Friday’s farm sunk in; I recalled the day we laid our German Shorthaired Pointer to rest under a tree on that very farm.

I thought to myself, we buried Sam in 1978. I vaguely remembered the tree and the pile of rocks we used for a marker. I had to try to find her, so I searched for what seemed like an eternity. Unfortunately, things change, and the memories of a young boy on his saddest day, were not exactly clear.

Frustration and the cold set in simultaneously. Then at the very moment, I was ready to give up, a grouse flushed and sat, for just a moment, on the limb of a big tree. Could that was the tree I was searching for? The big oak that split about 4 feet off the ground.  After that I found the rocks and sat down. Finally finding both tears and peace in the company of a canine friend from long ago

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