Max

October 23, 2015

I try my best to be rational, despite a lot of guff I get from less liberal friends.

 

I went through religious phases, even tinkered around in the occult for a while, until I got tired of trying to believe ridiculous things. So, I have self-identified as an atheist and a non-believer in magic for decades now, but I have to make an exception for particular dogs and cats.

 

I remembered that when I met Max.

 

I had a wonderful dog when I was a kid, a Heinz 57 of very democratic ancestry named Gramps. His previous owners called him that because his bark sounded like the griping of a querulous old man.

 

Gramps and I were as inseparable as a boy and his dog could be. We explored the woods and fields in the area where I grew up and were often out till after dark. I had a BB gun and Gramps, and was relatively fearless, except for that time with the Peacock, but that’s ‘whole ‘nother’ story.

 

When I was in Junior High, a brat down the street yanked on Gramps’ tail where it had been slammed in a door before we got him. Gramps yelped, turned and bit the little turd on the face.

 

Without hesitation, Dad took Gramps to the vet and had him put down. He said if he had not, the family of the little monster would have sued us.

 

I was heartbroken. I suggested that we put the kid down too, but that idea gained no traction.

 

I didn’t speak to my dad for a couple of weeks. I think he was really hurt.

 

Four years later I worked as a helper on a beer truck. I was loading the hand-dolly back on the truck in a town 40 miles from home when I turned around and there was Gramps.

 

Of course, that was silly. He was a young dog, and Gramps was pretty old when he died. But he was identical; same short glossy black fur, same white blaze on his chest, same quizzical tilt to his head when I talked to him.

 

I laughed at myself and climbed up in to the passenger seat of the cab.

 

Gramps II took a running leap and sat in my lap.

 

We talked for a long time. Wes the Driver, being a notorious motor-mouth and unable to keep a schedule, stayed in the package store for a long time.

 

I told him how much I missed him and stuff like that. He wagged and licked my face and looked into my eyes. When Wes came out from the package store, Gramps II licked my face again and jumped out of the cap and trotted away.

 

Wes, who had not seen the dog, saw my face and asked what was wrong. Nothing, I said, smiling. Everything’s fine.

 

And it was.

 

During my recent vacation, several of us were out exploring South Bristol, a little fishing village on the Maine coast. The town has a rare swing bridge spanning the gut between a sheltered harbor and Muscongus Bay.

 

A swing bridge serves the same purpose as a draw bridge, but instead of lifting up, it rotates to the side to let boats pass.

 

I am told there are only a few of these in existence, and the one in South Bristol will be gone by the spring of 2016, replaced by a more traditional drawbridge.

 

We had been watching the bridge working and taking photos of it. I finally sat on the steel curb on the span’s walkway to rest.

 

A slender, well-dressed woman with white hair approached with an older white Labrador retriever on a leash.

 

From about 20 feet away, the Lab, 12 years old and named Max, spotted me and nearly tugged his leash out of the woman’s hand. He plowed through my standing friends and threw himself at me.

 

He butted his head against mine. He licked my face and beard, wriggling like a puppy. I rubbed his ears and scratched his chest. He made small vocalizations. We were long-lost friends…who had never seen one another before.

 

“My god, he never does that,” said the woman. “He is normally kind of shy. He never approaches people.”

 

The group of us chatted with the woman for a while. She lived somewhere on the Maryland coast. I don’t remember much of the conversation; I was all about Max.

 

I talked the way I would to any other friend. Max mostly spoke through his eyes and body language. I said I would be happy to take him home, and I meant it. Whatever it was between the two of us, between two members of separate species, it was powerful.

 

Finally, it was time for the woman to leave; he husband was picking her up and two days later they would leave for Boston to visit some family, then home to Maryland.

 

She tugged the leash. Max looked at me, licked my face. He turned and walked away slowly. My throat tightened. If I had been a child I would have made a scene.

 

I do not know how to explain what happened between Max and me. I am not sure that I really want some cut-and-dried psychological explanation. I had felt a spark of something that bridged a gap that some would say cannot be bridged.

 

Max and I know better.

 

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One Response to “Max”

  1. Lauri said

    Awwww, such a lovely little column.

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