UP ON HAWTHORN HILL
This is not an essay I want to write. We had to say good-bye to Gabby several weeks ago. Gabby was such an integral part of my waking and thinking life for almost 16 years that even as I write about her passing it is difficult to imagine a future without her by my side, those sage, sable eyes locked into mine telling me wordless truths about life beyond the ken of any language to match.
When I started writing these essays I did not realize, until my wife Sandy pointed it out to me, that most of the time I ended each with a brief reference to Gabby. Sandy is my first string editor; an essay does not see the light of day unless she approves. I handed her an early draft some years ago and she said, “You did not mention Gabby at the end. Why not? You always do.” Everyone who writes needs a good editor, and I am very lucky in that regard. But she was right, I somehow, without any conscious thought at all, had weaved Gabby, and our relationship, into the very fabric of my thinking and writing. And that bond grew and strengthened over the years and while she is physically gone now I know that she will always be a part of my life, that I will never stop feeling the deeper than thought penetration of those eyes into my very soul and being.
I worried a bit early last winter when she had a few health issues about her making it long enough to see the publication of my book. The cover is a picture of the two of us taken by Sandy and while I had misgivings about my mug splattered on the cover, it pleased me to know that she would be there by my side.
An early essay, titled “Circles of Joy,” described Gabby’s habit of running in ever increasing concentric circles when something really excited her. I like thinking that perhaps where she is now she is feeling a different, wonderfully buoyant sense of pure joy, now that she is free of the pains and pangs of old age.
There is strangeness to my days now. We would walk down the hill every morning to check on the chickens and get the paper. It used to drive me nuts that she would insist on lingering so long at the base of the mailbox post, a kind of neighborhood communal canine sniffing site. She hated my habit of pushing her butt up the hill, all the while looking at me as if to say I don’t have a clue as to how much valued information is to be gleaned. Yet, one of her qualities that also endeared me to her was her habit of pretty much doing what she pleased. She had a mind of her own, a dog mind, and there were times when she looked at me with those dark eyes as if to remind me that dogs do dog stuff and humans do human stuff, so lay off old man.
Strange too is being away for the day, hoping she is OK, and wondering if she is a bit persnickety about our missing her four o’clock feeding time. Despite warnings as to the ill effects of feeding one’s dog table scraps, we were never able to resist those expectant, you owe me eyes. Residual milk at the bottoms of cereal bowls never went unlicked up. It will take a while to get out of the habit of looking down into those searching black eyes. Strange too is feeling her presence and seeing her everywhere and not at all.
A good friend, who hosted a small gathering of friends the other day to celebrate Gabby’s life, said that she was “an acquired taste.” She was. Shelties bond early and quickly — and pretty much to only one person. They remain loyal to close family members, but remain suspicious of outliers. Several close friends who had known Gabby for years still got barked at for having the audacity to tread on her turf uninvited. My grandchildren, one of whom called her “Gobby,’ always looked for her the minute she arrived. Where would Gabby go? She would beat a quick retreat behind a couch or table, of course, barking all the while. Gabby made a few close friends over the years, but generally kept her affections close to the vest.
Gabby’s loyalty and devotion to me, and mine to her, were set in stone. I often wished she would show a bit of affection for others, especially grandchildren who wanted to pet her and be her pal. But another part of me valued the exclusiveness of our relationship.
Among the strangest feelings both Sandy and I share is the darkness of the house at night. We discovered some time ago that she preferred to have a light on at night. So we always kept the living room light on next to her favorite sleeping rug. The light is out, but the ways in which she lit up my life will shine within me forever.
My gratitude to Jim and Deb Dalton for taking such wonderful care of Gabby when we were away.
Thanks also to Dr. Pam Lee and her staff for taking such good care of Gabby and making the end as bearable as it ever could be.