I've got lots of errands to do today so I didn't have any time to write a new article so I've pulled this "oldie but goodie" from my files to share once again with you and for my new readers who have not seen it before.
THE SECRET PLACE
Barbara J. Galasso
As far back as Tommy remembered, he always had a German Shepherd while growing up. There was always a dog to share his bed, steal his baseball cap and catch a Frisbee. He and his dad took the dog hunting and fishing; even though his father often reminded him this was not what shepherds were bred to do. The dog loved to join them anyway, alerting any deer along the way of their presence. He wanted to chase deer rather than stop or point. No sir, there was nothing quiet about taking a German Shepherd when you went hunting. Guess that's why no antlers hung over the fireplace mantle.
Tommy's family lived in a little house in a farming village where neighbors seldom locked their doors at night. When he closed his eyes, he could still see the old door in the kitchen that led out to the backyard. It seemed his father never did get those rusted hinges to shut all the way, allowing the dogs to come and go as they chose.
Every few years, mom and dad raised a new litter of puppies letting Tommy choose a male pup for himself. As each pup grew, got old and died, Tommy always called the next one he kept by the same name.”Shep.” His mother looked at him with a puzzled expression on her face, and he'd be forced to admit, "I know mom. Not very original." But he liked the name, so “Shep” is what each dog was called. Every Shep came to all his baseball practices and games. The challenge was to make him sit and stay, not chase each flying ball Tommy hit. Wherever Tommy went, Shep was usually two feet in front of him leading the way. He allowed Tommy's friends to play with him, but strangers were forbidden to get too close.
Grandma and grandpa visited often in those days. Sunday dinner was always a treat because mom made her famous pot roast. Grandpa got so tired after eating such a heavy meal; he would lie on the sofa and catch a little nap. Dad would bring his finger to his lips and say, "Shhhh.....Don't disturb grandpa. Let him sleep. He's old and he tires easily". "OK, dad", Tommy would say and out the back door he and Shep would run to play in the old barn.
When they tired of playing, Tommy would ask,”Hey Shep, you want to go to our secret place?" The dog would tilt his head to the side and begin jumping up and down with excited anticipation. Shep would let out a loud bark and with that Tommy would swing open the barn door and they'd race to see who would get to the secret place first. Tommy always knew this was never really a race because he'd always lose. Shep would stand waiting for him, with his tail wagging and body wiggling with happiness as Tommy reached the embankment several moments later.
Shep and Tommy's secret place was the old swimming hole. On a hot summer day, they could be found dipping into the cool, refreshing water. Shep would doggy paddle to Tommy, his huge feet clumsily slapping the water. "Hey Shep,” Tommy would warn, “Get away before you drown me, you big oaf!" They'd swim to the embankment, Shep searching quickly for a stick to play catch. This was a game they played time and again. Tommy sat with legs dangling in the water watching Shep’s big head part the water as he paddled to shore carrying the prize. He’d dance back and forth begging Tommy to throw the stick for him over and over. He never seemed to tire of this game. When the stick was tossed for the last time and Shep jumped back into the water, Tommy would dash off quickly to hide.
The absence of Tommy waiting on the shore, made Shep swim even faster. Of course his search didn't take too long, for he always knew where Tommy could be found. He'd quickly gait up the grassy knoll, this time Tommy waiting for him under the old oak tree. He'd drop his stick by Tommy's sprawled out body, give himself a good hard shake, and make sure his young master got wet all over again. "Thanks a lot Shep, Tommy would laugh. I really needed that."
Then he would flop next to Tommy and start pawing at him to remind him a good belly rubbing would feel perfect right about now. Satisfied, he'd roll over on his back, his silly legs sticking up in the air demanding attention. Once he relaxed and settled down, he'd look up with those soft brown eyes, let out a little whimper, and rest his big head on Tommy's lap. Tommy would talk to him scratching behind his ears. With a look of contentment, he'd gently close his eyes to take a nap. The bees and butterflies would fly among the flowers that covered the meadows as Shep and Tommy welcomed summer breezes that warmed their wet bodies. Sometimes Tommy would wrap his arm around Shep's big neck, and join him in peaceful slumber on those lazy summer days.
When Tommy went off to college, he returned home every week end anxious to take Shep for walks down by the swimming hole. They'd sit under the old oak tree, where Shep would cozy up to him, rest his head on his lap once again and listen contentedly as Tommy would share stories with his old friend. Life was simple and good.
The college years flew by; Tommy graduated and married his college sweetheart. They came often to visit at the farm, Shep running out to greet their car with a loud bark and a wag of his tail. When they had a son of their own, Sammy also looked forward to visits at grandma and grandpa's house so he could toddle outside to play with Shep. Shep would give him a big wet sloppy kiss, knocking him off his feet.
As the years went by Sammy gained spring in his step, whereas, Old Shep, as he was now called, found it harder to keep up as arthritis robbed his youthful gait and agility. They still came to the farm every Sunday for pot roast dinner, only now it was Tommy's dad who took a nap afterwards and he'd find himself bringing his finger to his lips reminding his son, "Shhhh.....,” he'd say, “Don't disturb grandpa. Let him sleep. He's old and tires easily.” "OK daddy,” Sammy replies, because he was more interested in where Shep was anyway.
On one of these Sunday gatherings Sammy fidgeted in his chair uninterested in finishing his dinner. The conversation flowed smoothly, so no one really paid too much attention to him. The child watched as Old Shep pressed his nose against the back door pushing his arthritic body a little harder to make it open. That old creaky door never did get fixed after all the years. When the dishes were washed, grandma announced, "Time for dessert everybody”. They gathered around the table, except Tommy noticed Sammy didn't come. He called out his son’s name, but Sammy didn't answer. Tommy thought, "I bet I know where he is. He's out playing with Old Shep.”
Excusing himself from the table, he went out the kitchen door. "Sammy", he called again. Still no answer. He went around the side of the barn and thought there was only one place they could be. They had to be down by the secret place; the swimming hole. He called out the boys name again. "Come on, Sammy! Grandma's got dessert on the table. You'd better hurry up inside before it's all gone.”
Coming around the bend, he saw Sammy with Old Shep’s head lying in his lap in the very spot under the old oak tree where he used to sit with all the Sheps before him. A smile escaped his lips as memories flooded his heart with the realization Sammy shared a love of animals as his father and grandfather before him.
"Hey son", he began to say until Sammy cut his words off by bringing his little finger up to his lips. "Shhhh.....dad. Don't disturb Old Shep. Let him sleep. He's old and tires easily.” With that, a silent gasp escaped Tommy's throat as a single tear rolled down his cheek. He sat and took his place next to Sammy. "Yes, my boy,” his voice quivered as he wrapped his arm around his shoulder, “Let Old Shep sleep now. Dessert will have to wait for today.” Filled with the innocence of childhood, Sammy’s young face turned to look up at his father, "I always loved Old Shep better than any dessert anyway," he said smiling.
The bees still buzzed about but the butterflies seemed to linger a little longer on this day as they visited the flowers that covered the meadows where Tommy and Sammy sat. His mind began to wander and he swore he could hear the echoes of his own voice saying once again, "Hey Shep, you want to go to our secret place?” as he looked down at the old dog whose head rested on his son's lap. A gentle breeze caressed their cheeks as a single leaf zigzagged its way from the old oak tree floating to its final resting place where Old Shep's heart used to beat.
NO PART OF THIS STORY MAY BE REPRODUCED OR COPIED WITHOUT THE PERMISSION FROM THE AUTHOR!
My rating: children and dogs raised together: (4)