A few days ago there was some very nice prose posted about dogs. I thank those who posted as they served to spark my memory of my childhood dog, Spot. Although I am a little slow in joining the theme, none the less, I would like to share some pleasant memories of my childhood dog.
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Ahhh Spot....what a kind and trusty mutt he was. He was all white with one large brown spot midway down his back. Almost like a saddle, but it was slid over to the side, as if someone forgot to tighten the strap under the belly. A mixed breed but he was big like a German shepherd. He might have had some pointer in him as well. As from what I can remember, he would take that stance of stopping in his tracks and extending his neck and head forward, and then standing perfectly still with one front paw raised as if at attention. Spot did this when he heard something out of ordinary or an invisible scent to us would waft by his nose.
I do not remember when we adopted him only that he was part of the family for as long as I can remember. He was always there with my brother, Stephen, and I. He used to follow my brother everywhere; however when I arrived four years later, Spot then switched his allegiance to me the youngest member of the family. And let me tell you I was a precocious tyke that needed watching over and I think he knew that. I would always wander off, and it was not because my mother was not caring for me, but because I was very quick about it and a regular Houdini at getting out of whatever enclosure she had me in.
One time my mother had put me out in the back yard inside a circular wooden playpen. I could not get over it...but little did she realize I figured out how to get under it. The next thing you know there goes platinum blond, blue eyed, adorable and adventuresome Carol skeedaddling across the yard and into the woods. This may have taken me all of about a minute that is how quick I was.
Through the woods I went until I came to a large cliff. And of course the cliff did not stop me and onward I forged. Slowly and carefully placing my sneaker clad feet in all the right places as I traversed my way down what I thought was a huge mountain. And to this day, forty-two years later, what makes my Mother's stomach turn every time she thinks of her baby girl climbing down those rocks. I think it was at this point that Spot realized he could not follow me anymore, and returned to gather the posse.
I pressed on down to the bottom of the cliff across another person's yard and through some more woods. Now I was on the side of the road. Thankfully in 1962, that road was not near busy as it is today. A kind woman who was out in her yard spotted me standing there. She was fearful to say anything to me as I might walk out into the road towards her. However she knew she had to do something. Angels must have been watching over me as the woman timed it perfectly and took off like a shot across the street in between the passing cars, grabbed me up into her arms and carried me back across safely to her home.
Now while this was all happening my poor mother was pulling her hair out. Crying, pacing, and searching. She had called the police. She ran out to the end of the driveway a few times to see if I might be walking up or down one of the streets that our house cornered on. And she was cursing the wooden circular playpen that was supposed to keep me contained. Not understanding how I could have climbed out and over it. On closer inspection she saw that an area of grass inside and out of the playpen had been crushed and pushed to the side. As if something had dragged over it and that is when she realized how I had gotten out.
I would say that only about ten or fifteen minutes had passed since my great escape. Spot had returned to the house, looking sheepish, and anxious my mother said. But she did not put two plus two together quite yet. He was circling her legs and then he would head across the yard towards the path that I had followed just minutes before. Somehow I think my mother was trying to block the thought of the woods and cliff out of her mind, as she could not or would not think of the possibility of me traipsing through the woods or mountain climbing at the age of four.
In the meantime, I can remember as clear as day that I was sitting on this woman's counter, in her kitchen and swinging my legs back and forth. She had given me some juice and a cookie. I was being my adorable and cheery self. Not a hair out of place or a scratch on me. The only evidence of my escape was grass stains on my knees. She was placing a call to the local police department.
The town I grew up in, Saugus, Massachusetts was a small town. Thus when the two calls came in to the police station, it did not take long to put them together. The little lost Johnson girl from Palmetto Street was also the little girl found down on Saville Street, nearly an eighth of a mile away. Little old me, Carol "Christopher Columbus" Johnson who was striking out to see new worlds.
And so the police came and gathered me up to bring me back to my mother who was having a nervous breakdown. She could not believe that I had climbed down that cliff. The brief moment that she thought of that possibility when spot kept looking wistfully at the path through the woods, my mother could only imagine me as being a shattered heap on the ground below the cliff. Not me though...oh no...Not only was I a Houdini I was also very strong and adept at rock climbing.
Thus there was a happy ending here and a couple of lessons too. Learn to trust the family dog for his signals, even though he cannot speak, he can communicate in his own way is the first one. The second one being do not leave me alone for a second.
Spot continues to leave imprints in my mind like snapshots. We would spend time at Plum Island on vacation, where I learned to swim. And there was Spot in the water with us all. And by watching him I in turn learned how to do the dog paddle. We would go camping, and my brother and I would have to share the back seat with Spot. Which was okay, as long as he did not have the dreaded "dog breath" or worse yet....gas. Let me tell you being stuck in a Rambler Station Wagon is no fun as it does not matter how fast you are driving down the highway there is never enough breeze coming in to air out the back seat in that situation.
As Spot got older he also got a bit slower. One could see that his eyesight was not like it used to be, nor was his hearing. However there was part of him that was always at the ready. That being is awareness of a female being in heat within the town limits. I kid you not. We used to get calls from all over town to please come pick up your dog. He was a wanderer as well as a lover too. We would arrive at a house and sure enough their dog, a female, would be in heat and dear Spot would be camped out and waiting for any opportunity to procreate.
Then months later driving down that same street in that same neighborhood where Spot had laid claim. We would see a young pup in a yard or walking down a sidewalk with the exact same markings as Spot. We would always get a chuckle out of it. He knew no limits to where his feet would carry him, so as he could do his bit to have his blood line carried on.
And so life went on at Palmetto street. My brother and I grew up. When we came home from school each day Spot would be waiting at the bottom of the back steps with his tail a wagging. Or if it was raining or snowing, he would be right inside the door waiting for us there. Giving us a smell and a nudge to say hello and I missed you.
Our home was a cape design with two bedrooms upstairs. So at the top of the stairs on the landing right between Stephen's and my room was Spot's spot. Every night he would climb those stairs. He would follow us into our rooms to assure himself we were settled in and then take his place in the neutral zone. We would laugh at him as his routine was ever constant....go to my room first, then Stephen's then out to the landing. One more glance into my room to make sure all was well and he would precede to do his pre sleep ritual of his circling the wagons...turning once, twice, and thrice before he laid himself down. And in the morning when we awoke that is where he would be. One eye closed and one eye opened to survey his charges as he heard us waking up.
The bittersweet and most clear memory I have a Spot is when I was sixteen. Yes Spot lived that long. Summer was long over and the fall was creeping towards winter. The nights were getting colder. Spot would lie at the bottom of the back door steps until nightfall or later and we would then call him in. He seemed to like it out there, performing his sentry duties for the family and keeping an eye over his domain.
On this particular night we were in the den watching television. Our back entrance consisted of a wooden back door with a window in the top third of the door. Then there was an aluminum door, consisting of the top two thirds being storm windows, and the bottom third was aluminum. We heard a loud knock on the bottom of the aluminum door. This was not unusual as sometimes Spot would climb up to the top step and lie there, and while doing so he would bang into the door. Again, we heard a deliberate knocking on the door. We all got up and went to the back door to look outside. There was no one there, except Spot who was lying at the bottom of the steps.
My Dad then opened the door, and was surprised as well as concerned with the sudden temperature drop. Spot was shivering while he slept. My Dad called to him to come in. Spot could barely get onto his feet. I was crying watching him, and the rest of the family was also saddened by watching him. We knew that he was having trouble with arthritis per the last visit to the Vet. Our poor dog who had blessed us with his company and devotedness for sixteen years could barely move. So we all knew it was not him who had banged against the door. My dad went out the door and down to the bottom of the steps. He bent over and picked Spot up and carried him inside. We placed him near the radiator in the den with us and covered him with a blanket to warm him up. I sat there on the floor next to him patting him and talking to him.
We all looked at one another and thought out loud. If it was not Spot knocking the door then who was it? Who was it that let us know that our family dog needed our help? Who was it that told us he needed to come in from the cold to join his family? Was it the guardian angel of animals?
Our home had long had a history of unexplained occurrences over the years...not necessarily bad occurrences, but positive good ones. My paternal grandmother was known to "talk to the spirits". Whenever there was a death, or worry in the family we would get feelings of reassurance, soft pats on the shoulders and knowing that all would be alright. So maybe it was that same presence that told us Spot needed us to take care of him as he had taken care of us for all those years. Regardless of who or what is was we all realized that poor Spot had reached an age where he was not able to get around like he used to. He was in pain and suffering. And as hard as that decision was to make my parents knew that it was time to put our poor Spot to rest.
And so the next morning my mother and father with tears in their eyes gathered Spot up and took him to the vet. All was so quiet about our home for several weeks after that dreaded day. We knew he was not suffering anymore but all of us missed his presence dearly. It has been thirty years since that day, and I still feel the tears gathering in the corners of my eyes when I think about him as I sit writing this piece. And because of Spotís loyalty to us and being such a wonderful dog and major part of all of our lives, we would never consider having another dog. As Spot was invaluable and irreplaceable and always will be. I will always remember you and hold you close to my heart my canine friend and companion for all those years.