An article on Cracked today went over a few science myths that we learned in kindergarten class as kids. Now, I don’t know about anybody else, but we most certainly didn’t go over the Coriolis effect or introductory aerodynamics. The origin of diamonds and how dogs do or do not sweat , however, did come up.
Those two items got me thinking about something that meant a lot to me as a kid, though.
My grandfather—Big Dad, as we called him—was a hunter. He got a puppy with the intent to train him as a hunting buddy. He was this pretty little golden collie mix—I don’t know what he was mixed with, but he looked like a fluffy lion-wolf thing. He asked me and my cousins to suggest a name for him.
“Sparky! He’s all gold and sparkly!” I suggested and with my five-year-old self tried to go up and pet the little guy, but then my cousin shoves me. I eat a mouthful of hardwood floor.
“That’s a stupid girl name.” They both laugh. Stupid boys.
I get reprimanded by my grandmother for what I’ve done. I’ve already learned to try to ignore those—they were the boys™ and they were special, because they were the only boys in this generational family chunk. Mom and Dad had taken me aside for this a long time ago and I’d had time to make an almost-peace with it.
By the time I’ve managed to stand myself up, the name Sparky has been accepted, but only after one of the boys™ has suggested it. Then he lets us play with the little guy.
As it turned out, Sparky was the brightest little pup ever. He learned at an amazingly fast rate, and by a couple weeks in he knew Sit, Stay, Roll Over, Take Cover, Down, Shake, Bring The [this is where you point at the thing and say its name a few times while he processes it] and It’s Too Cold Huddle Up.
My problem was, he grew up.
As in way up.
As in he got so big he started to scare me.
After a while the cousins started using the threat of turning him loose to scare me. Sparky was a beautiful, majestic beast, all golds and glowing and beautiful rippling muscle. And I was—am!—a tiny little preemie kid that never really caught up to the family standard size, with spindly little bones and no muscle on her body. I seriously thought he’d mistake me for a Milkbone one day and eat me as a snack.
So the day Big Dad picked me up on a lark and dropped me on big Sparky’s back was terrifying.
Then Sparky took off.
In D&D, halflings have an option for a canine mount. I don’t THINK my Big Daddy had any contact with a D&D module, but he had a sense of humor, and he knew about how much Sparky could haul, and I was a little 30-pound thing at five (IF I WEIGHED THAT MUCH!).
So here I am riding on a big golden dog with a huge cheesy grin on its face as it does laps around the ludicrously huge backyard. Big Dad’s grin is a matching one to Sparky’s, I see, when the dog turns around and brings me back.
I was never afraid of Sparky again—he’d charge at me but he’d slow down, nose boop and then cuddle when I was there from then on—with permission from Big Dad we’d run laps to keep him in prime hunting condition. The two of them helped to expand my palate—at least, as long they remembered not to TELL ME what the meat was before I tried it, because I didn’t like knowing the food had a face before I ate it. (Squirrel’s pretty tasty, if you can believe it.)
The day Sparky died, no one saw it coming. The Midwest has a bit of a spider issue—I’m not a fan of those bastards anyway—and the beautiful guy was bitten somewhere we couldn’t spot, between the toes of a paw, so we didn’t know until he was gone. He hadn’t responded to an offer of laps, and only bugged me and Big Dad for a few cuddles before lying down to go to sleep. He didn’t wake up from his nap.
We buried him that day in the shade of his favorite tree. It took a while to do—I kept patting him, hoping he’d warm back up and wake up.
It didn’t happen.
“We have to put him in, Grasshopper.”
“But it’s Sparky. Sparky always gets up.”
“Sparky was tired. Now he has to sleep.”
“But it’s Sparky.” I patted his nose. His nose had never been that cold. It was like ice, and there was no breath. That’s where I started to realize it.
“Do you know what happens to good dogs when they’re gone, Grasshopper?”
I shook my head. I was rubbing Sparky’s ears now. They were cold.
“When you bury a good dog,” Big Dad said, “the Earth takes special care of them. One day when your children’s children’s children come to this spot, they’ll be able to dig here and find a diamond, and Sparky will protect them through that diamond for all time.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Old Injun man told me this—the one with me in the war.” Big Dad stopped to adjust his false teeth—the ‘Injun’ wasn’t a racist slip, it was his teeth slipping. They slid back into place with a paklok that made me smile in spite of the situation.
After we lowered him into the hole, a squirrel kicked off a branch over is, jarring enough leaves to let a brief flash of light onto Sparky’s fur so that I could see how shimmery he was one more time. I stopped Big Dad in the middle of a shovel of dirt so I could jump in the hole for a second. I had to do one thing first.
Sparky looked just like he was sleeping. It was a simple matter to believe his spirit would wait there until the day his body was new and shiny, waiting for someone to find it and bring it in as an amulet of protection. I smoothed his fur down and arranged him so he was in his favorite comfy curl, and when I was satisfied that he looked happy, I gave him a pat on the head.
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