Growing up, our family always had black cocker spaniels, going back, at least, to my mother’s childhood. Bony (hardly… his large head, majestic like a male lion, his sturdy body larger than today’s overbred, overeager-to-please and dainty versions; his official name simply was Ebony) was our family dog from my middle single digits, right up to my seventeenth year. Thus, Bony – always offering up only empathy, never a discouraging word – saw me through the most traumatic years of change from a young boy to… to, well, a young man with a serious girlfriend.
To describe Bony as noble is to underestimate him. A loyal family dog – he devotedly loved his family and was, in turn, loved by them – he also could be a loner. Once, when the family moved to a new neighborhood, he decided he liked his old stomping grounds better and walked back, 3 miles, crossing many busy suburban roads. His noble good looks made him quite a ladies man (we knew no one in the fifties who “fixed” their dogs), and for this aspect of his loner-life, he would disappear for a few days once or twice a year. We never met his other family(ies) but have no doubt some of our more far-flung neighbors wondered why their little Fluffy Sweet had yet another litter.
Bony’s death was as noble as his life. Clueless as we were that he was even sick since he displayed no symptoms (yet, he knew…), he wandered away in the late autumn and was gone for several days. Thinking he was tending to his other family – or creating a new one – we were not overly concerned and expected his imminent return.
On a cold, rainy Saturday night my serious girlfriend and I were in our family room watching television. Knock on the door. Rarely seen across-the-street neighbor. Dead dog hidden under piles of leaves behind my shrub border. Think he may be yours….
As the only family member home that cold, wet night, it fell to me to identify the body. Stricken with a grief I had never known, I quickly gathered up the serious girlfriend and took her home… much to her surprise and displeasure. I knew then and there she had to be rear-view mirror material – and soon was. Until this telling episode, nothing had separated us.
Digging the grave myself the next day, face awash with salty tears mixed with fresh rain, and then burying this noble canine (perhaps gaining some of his wisdom during this grim procedure), I knew the first phase of my life had come to an end and I became a man.
– Fred (For Chloe on her birthday from her loving Pa)