It was Memorial Weekend Saturday. On Cape Cod, this day is almost holy, recognized as the first day of the summer season. Beaches and clamshacks and overpriced gift stores open. So do doughnut shops. Have you ever had a real New England doughnut? A real hand-cut, fresh-from-the-fryer, crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside, race-track-shaped oval of fat and flour? If you have, then you understand the fervor with which locals look forward to the day the tourists spark the doughnut shops to re-open. For this, at least, we thank them.
I woke up yesterday morning knowing that Flemings’ would be open, up the street in the little shopping area realtors call “downtown Brewster” and everyone else calls Foster Square. I had the dog leashed up by 8:15, and we began another summer of Saturday tradition, walking Main Street to get doughnuts – powdered sugar for me, a coffee roll for Dad (they had sold out of his favorite apple fritters by 7:15). Then across the parking lot to the Cumberland Farms to pick up this week’s edition of the local paper, the Cape Codder, and back home. Coffee, paper, dog… all on the deck. Summer began.
Halfway through the front section of the Codder, I heard Dad cane his way into the kitchen. I made a quick step in to see how he was. “Fine,” he said. “I want to take my blood pressure.” That task accomplished, I stepped into his bathroom to… well, do what one does in a bathroom. Yeesh. Disgusting. And the visiting nurse group had just called to say the home health aide had called in sick, so no shower and no light housekeeping until Wednesday. Fine, I’ll clean this mess myself.
Then, just as I had started scrubbing the sink, I heard the barking.
I tore through the kitchen and out the screen door, expecting to just be yelling at the dog to get his butt back onto the deck. Then I remembered – his Invisible Fence collar was back down in the car – we’d gone for a pond walk the previous afternoon, and I’d taken off the collar so he wouldn’t soak it while swimming out for sticks. I looked across the street, and there was the collie he always had to bark at – even when indoors, he’d be leaping at the windows when that dog and owner walked by. Before I could take another step, Bart had leaped. He had leaped into the traffic that Memorial Day Saturday brings to the edge of my front yard. In the time it takes a sponge to drop, a tear to form, the time it takes to mouth the word “NO!” or the word “BART!”, my fabulous, golden-haired friend was yelping and flying and hitting hard pavement. The sound of a ball dropping.
It was a day of loss and great kindness. The poor man-boy who hit Bart was distraught – overwrought, even – I think the moment will play in his head as long as it will in mine. I wish him great comfort, he bears no fault. Drivers jumped out of their cars and stopped traffic, others helped me carry that gorgeous dog to the side of the road and stood by my side. Two neighbors – one across the street and the other who’d just happened to be jogging by, dropped everything. Held me. Helped me grasp my way back to the surface. My poor father who walked out the door to see what all the fuss was about, found me on the ground weeping and held me as I stood up. Police cars stopped and officers waved the passing vehicles around a nucleus of tears and disbelief.
Those kind neighbors organized others to bundle the creature who, since he was 8 weeks old, hadn’t been more than 5 feet away from me for more than, maybe, four hours a day, into the back of my Subaru. Then they drove me to the vet, from where he’ll be delivered to the crematorium. In another few weeks, I’ll have a little wooden box. All 65 pounds of Bart in a little wooden box.
“If” and “If only” are entry signs leading to a path one should avoid at all peril, but I’m having a very difficult time not wandering beyond that path’s first corner. In the end, I believe, I was juggling too many balls. One fell. And my lovely, loving devoted friend ran off chasing it. He never could resist a bouncing ball. His voice, his scrambling paws, his rolling toys and cat-taunting half-barks were the soundtrack of my home. Now, I feel as though I’m watching my life with the mute button pushed.
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of his hand.
Good friend, sleep well. I wished to watch you turn old and gray and distinguished, and be your comfort through big-dog hip issues. Now, though, like that figure on Keats’ urn, you will always be the leaping, swimming, running image of life and vitality. Your grace and kindness touched me and changed me.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.