A Pat on the Head
A short story containing an old dog, a famous horse, an eulogy at a country funeral, and ending with a tragic plane crash, will be one of two things: It will either be a forgettable tangle of tales that leave a reader frustrated.
Or it may be a wonderfully woven story imparting lessons that can change our lives.
My hope is that it is the latter. You—the reader—will decide.
Ivory is our thirteen- year Yellow Labrador. As you’ve probably noticed, I write about her quite often.
It’s because she’s the best dog I’ve ever owned.
And she is obviously in the last days of her life.
Ivory is completely deaf and sleeps much of the day away on her dog bed. Getting up is difficult for her, and lifting her hundred pounds into the bed of my truck is no easy task for me. In addition, she suffers from severe seizures.
In spite of her deteriorating physical condition, her spirit is still strong. The bright intelligent eyes, that make Labs the best-loved breed of all, still glow.
She keeps a perpetual smile on her face and spends most of the day beside me as I write.
Ivory on the cover of The Old House, my second book.
My mother often comments, “Curt, you’re going to miss her bad when she’s gone.”
I know that’s true.
Ivory may outlive me, but I rather doubt it. The odds are that one morning I’ll go out and find her dead.
Because I know her time with me is short, I don’t walk by her without petting her on the head.
It’s a habit I have.
It’s something she expects and also something I must do.
Because I know the day is coming when I won’t have her around.
For anyone who knows Southern history, Traveller was the white horse that Robert E. Lee rode throughout the Civil War.**
The author shared how General Lee would not walk past Traveller* without some sort of nudge or pet. Even in the midst of battle, he’d absentmindedly walk over to his horse and stroke him.
*General Lee used the British spelling for “Traveller” by adding the extra l.
I understand why he did that. There was a connection between them that nothing could break. They’d been through so much together, shared the hardships of battle and camp life, and formed a deep unspoken bond.
After the war ended, Lee became president ofWashingtonCollegeinLexington,VA, and Traveller, the most famous horse inAmerica, lived in the field beside the president’s home.
Passerby would often see the two recognizable figures in the yard. The majestic white horse and the white-bearded Virginian as Lee fed sugar cubes to his friend.
While away on a trip, Lee wrote his wife, “How is Traveller? Tell him that I miss him dreadfully, and have repented over our separation but once: and that is the whole time since we parted.”
Robert E. Lee died in 1870 and was buried in the chapel atWashingtonCollege. Traveller only outlived him by two years before succumbing to tetanus from stepping on a nail.
As was appropriate, the horse was buried just outside the wall of the General’s resting place.
General Lee would understand all about my pats on the head for Ivory.
And I certainly identify with his great love for a faithful animal.
At a funeral last week, I thought about this trait of showing our affection to those we love this week. It was at the memorial service for Mr. David Reeves, who had a large and close extended family.
His son, Buddy, gave a stirring eulogy about his father. Buddy shared how his dad, in his younger days, was often hard on him and found it difficult to verbally express his love for them.
Then twenty years ago, David Reeves had a serious seizure that changed all of that. Buddy shared how from that moment when his father realized how fleeting life could be, he never missed an opportunity to tell each and every family member how much he loved them.
As I looked around at the Reeves family as they buried their father, grandfather, and great grandfather, I realized each knew with certainty how they were loved. They knew it because he’d told them repeatedly—and they had in return returned his words of love.
It was very evident there was one thing missing at this funeral:There was no regret. Everything that needed to be said within a family had been lovingly said. They’d taken care of him throughout this time of declining health.
Mr. David Reeves had given his family a great gift:Open expressions of his love.
I would call this the verbal equivalent of my pat on the hand of Ivory.
It spoke volumes.
My own family, the Iles and Plotts, have given me a wonderful legacy. However, neither family was much on saying,“I love you.”I’m not sure I heard my dad say that a dozen times in his life. However, he was such a great father that I never doubted it, due to his actions and kindness toward my sisters and me.
I was determined to change this verbal communication with my own children. From the day we brought each boy home from the hospital, I “practiced” telling them I how much I loved them.
I’m still doing it today. I never let a conversation end without an expression of how much I love them and how proud I am of them.
I’m also practicing it on my grandsons now.
I want them to have “that pat on the head” that tells them how highly I think of them. That way they’ll never have reason to doubt my love.
This morning (March 27), I listened to a touching segment on NBC’s Today show. Ann Curry was interviewing Louis Pullen, who lost a grown child and grandchildren in a plane crash last week.
Fourteen people—all headed on a ski trip—died when their plane nosedived into the ground.
Mr. Pullen, who shared emotionally about the lives of family and friends on the plane, closed the interview by looking directly into the camera. “I want to tell everyone to value their family. Tell them how much you love them, because you never know.”
His words—and the way he said them—stabbed deeply into my heart.
I want to live my life where those I love never doubt my love.
I want to express it with my actions, but I also wish to express it with my words—both verbally and written.
“A pat on the head” to those who mean the world to me; an expression of love that will outlive both the giver and receiver.
To live with no regrets.
That’s a good goal to have.
To say what needs to be said—and do it now.
A pat on the head—or a word from the heart.
Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover
**James David Cain, one of my history teachers, once put this bonus question on a test:“What was the color of General Lee’s white horse?”
It’s hard to believe but some genius missed it, putting “tan” as the answer.
Following this blog entry are four more dog stories for your enjoyment.