I finished loading the last of the suitcases into the station wagon and cleaned all of the windows. I just wanted to be certain there would be a clear view of the miles of cornfields, the herds of cows out to pasture, and especially the mountain ranges. I didn’t want anyone to miss a thing during our three-hour journey.
My wife was putting the finishing touches on her world-class potato salad, made from a recipe passed down from her mother, and her mother before that. While she carefully packed bowls of the precious concoction into a Styrofoam cooler, I entertained our granddaughter, Bria, who would be going along with us to her first family reunion.
Bria and I were engaged in our usual game of hide and seek. I would close my eyes, count to one hundred, then, with very little trouble, I’d find Bria peeking out from around one slim tree or another.
“There you are,” I’d say with a smile, pointing in her direction. Her response was always the same.
“You’re cheating. You’re cheating!”
I had just finished counting and began my exaggerated search to find her. This time I crept around the back of the house and came up behind Bria, who was hiding like a bunny in a patch of tall grass.
“There you are.” I laughed. Bria didn’t bother to turn around. She just stood there staring down at the ground.
“That’s where Boston ate food,” she said solemnly, pointing a tiny finger at the base of a row of bushes.
The words caught me off guard. Boston was a sweet little black terrier that we owned for twelve years. I couldn’t have loved my own flesh and blood any more than I loved that dog. The little Scotty used to perch atop the back of the living room sofa, gazing out of the front window. As soon as my car appeared, so did Boston, bouncing off a sofa cushion as if it were a diving board. He would wind up at the front door, dancing in circles as he balanced on his hind legs to welcome me.
First thing each morning, like a furry alarm clock, Boston would wrestle the covers off our bed and begin yelping until he was sure we were up. In the evening, when my wife dozed off on the couch, all I had to do was to whisper Boston’s name. In an instant, the dog’s fuzzy little beard would be resting in my lap. The night was our time. Who knows how many secrets and dreams I shared with him? This was more than a man and his dog. We were best friends.
When Boston died, almost two years earlier, a week before Bria’s second birthday, I was devastated – inconsolable. The pain that tightened around my heart left a great emptiness inside of me. It was a void that my tiny granddaughter eventually helped to fill. And though there was not a day that passed without me thinking of the little dog, I was sure that over time, Bria had completely forgotten about him.
I recalled her as a toddler peering around corners of the house asking the same question over and over again. “Where Boston?” she would repeat until she uncovered his wagging tail and bristly ears. As the little guy skipped around her and tried to lick her face, she would answer with a giggle, her tiny fingers patting him on the head. But a day came when her regular search didn’t uncover him.
“Where Boston?” she asked, as usual. Despite the hurt that I felt that day, I slipped on my best grandfatherly mask and explained the dog’s sudden absence by telling Bria that Boston had to go away – he had been called to heaven. She looked at me with confusion, not exactly understanding what it all meant. But from that day on, whenever the subject of Boston came up, Bria would get an angelic look on her face, bat her eyes innocently, and whisper, “Boston heaven.” Then she’d nod with certainty. In time, all discussion of the little black dog seemed to fade into the past. Now, almost two years later, a memory of Boston had returned to her.
“Bria, you remember Boston?”
She thoughtfully nodded yes.
“And where is Boston?” I asked, expecting the usual answer.
“Boston died,” she answered softly.
“And he’s in heaven now,” I quickly interjected, desperate to temper her sadness with a sweet thought. “He’s a little doggy angel,” I explained, still wondering when this little granddaughter of mine had become aware of death. As I wrapped my arms around Bria and hugged her, I could not ignore the signs of the child’s precious innocence beginning to slip away.
The reunion was as it had always been. It tied me to the carefree days of my childhood. I was back in my mother’s hometown again, surrounded by relatives, but this time there was Bria sharing it all. The “Belle of the Ball,” she spent time charming everyone with the simple grace and impish grin of a four-year-old. After two fun-filled days of food and family, the three of us made our return trip.
Back home, I was unpacking the car when I heard hysterical wailing from the bedroom upstairs. It became so pitiful that I dropped everything and dashed into the house. As I raced up the stairway, I met my wife coming down, our granddaughter in her arms.
“You won’t believe what she’s crying about,” my wife whispered as she flew past me. “She’s crying because Boston died.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
I knew I still wasn’t over my dog’s death. There were days when I could see his hairy little black face, nose to nose with me. There were mornings when I pictured Boston staring up at me from the spot where his basket used to sit in the kitchen. There were nights when I would wake up and, in the darkness, I was sure I could feel the little dog resting under the covers near my feet. But these were feelings I kept to myself, never realizing that Bria had her own memories of the little black dog.
I picked my weeping granddaughter up in my arms and held her tight, trying my best to offer comfort.
“Don’t cry, Bria,” I urged. “It’s okay. Boston’s in heaven. Boston has wings and the cutest little halo.” I tried to explain as I felt the shudder of every sob. “Don’t you want Boston to be an angel in heaven?” I asked.
“Noooo,” she cried as she fought to catch her breath. “I just want him to be a dog again.”
We clung together as tears ran down both of our faces. How could I ever explain to my little granddaughter that, all I wanted was for Boston to be a dog again too?