By Tom Poland
Should you walk our family land in eastern Georgia, you’ll come across several cemeteries. No, they’re not ancestors. You won’t see headstones. You’ll see wooden crosses and one brick-like stone of quartz. Unlike ancestors we never knew, loved ones, sweet dogs and curious cats sleep here. Their spirits, of course, crossed the Rainbow Bridge into tranquility, into eternity.
One grave is an outlier. That is it sits all alone on a ridge flecked snow-white with outcroppings of quartz and the red-clay root balls of wind-toppled oaks and hickories. Walking toward the grave you’ll see shards of white quartz and it’s tempting to think Indians once camped here, and I will write that they did. They dwelled here on a sort of happy hunting, burial ground to be.
I own that land and my last dog rests there. Brit was and is her name. Is, you see, because she still lives in my memories and heart. Now bear with me and let my ground-penetrating eyes take you beneath that Georgia white quartz and red clay. Wrapped in a bedspread the color of creamed corn, sleeps a gray-tan and silver little dog. Never mind that her bones and that bedspread long ago returned to the earth. In my mind they’re still as Dad laid them to rest in 1985. That’s right, it’s been thirty-six years since I had a dog.
I got her in 1976, and in 1980 we struck out on our own. That dog was the best thing that happened to me for a considerable stretch of time. Maybe forever. She was a fiercely loyal Pekingese. In her ninth year, a mysterious malady struck. I took her to several vets. None could help her, and things kept going downhill. Pneumonia set in and her final two days were spent in an oxygen tent. On a hot August morning in 1985, a tall lanky veterinarian put his hand on my shoulder.
“Son, you really love that dog don’t you.”
“Then you’re going to do the right thing and let her go home.”
I said the long goodbye. Just like that my home seemed cavernous. I hid her leash and bowls. Hid her toys. I was as lost as a man can be. My evening routine of going to the grocery store so Brit could stick her face out the window to wind died. My habit of getting her two beef patties from Wendy’s drive-through died. My habit of jingling keys to make her dance on hind legs and yip in anticipation of a ride died. A big part of me died. Never again would I return from work to see a gray-tan and silver dog on hind legs peering through vertical blinds for her master’s return. You see, she knew exactly when 5:30 p.m. arrived.
That sad day, Dad drove over from Georgia mid afternoon. He picked Brit up at the vet’s and buried her back home in that hardwood-clad ridge, the kind of place Brit loved. He fashioned her an oval grave of quartz stones facing east beneath trees, the same stand of oaks and hickories where teenage Tom shot gray squirrels with a .410 Mossberg. I had no appreciation for life back then. No one I loved had died yet. Brit helped me realize that pesky tree rats love life as much as frisky gray-tan and silver Pekingese do.
Well, here it is fall, and cool breezes rustle leaves soon to turn colors, then brown and wither. They’ll fall in eastern Georgia and form a blanket across Brit’s grave, a layer that will put a damper on cold days to come. In the canopy, descendants of squirrels I missed scamper from limb to limb, just as Brit scampered through woods where she sleeps.
My last dog. All that seems like light years ago and it seems like yesterday.
A few days after she died, a test came in from Auburn’s vet college. She had lupus.
Losing Brit hurt so bad I never got a dog again. I just couldn’t put myself through all that that again. When I hurt bad, I vow to never feel the pain again and I don’t.
Someone once said dogs are not our whole life but they make our lives whole. A writer wrote, “No matter how little money and how few possessions you own, having a dog makes you rich.”
That’s how I felt back in 1980 when little Brit and I struck off to make a new life together. Rich. It just didn’t damn last long enough.
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