I have written before about the Cowhill Council, a group of seasoned gentlemen who meet and enjoy gourmet coffee. We have returned from downtown to our winter home in a grain silo out in the country on Jerald’s five acres. We meet there most mornings, sitting in cozy comfort around a wood stove, coffee cups in hand, enjoying friendship and laughter. Almost every morning for more than a decade, my arrival greeting has always been a head nod and tongue-lolling smile from Nugget, Jerald’s yellow Lab. The dog knows me, knows my Jeep, recognizes it as soon as I turn off the highway. We have known each other since he was a pup. Everyone who has ever had a pet knows that comforting feeling that comes when a dog, cat, or horse recognizes you and looks at you with those friendly, welcoming eyes—eyes that say come over and put your hand on my head—eyes that say “I’m glad to see you.” It starts the day out right.
This morning, on the eve of Christmas Eve, Nugget was not waiting for me. I was late and had other things on my mind, including some repair work at my office, and regret that I did not think much about his absence. Nugget has spent his life on a small acreage next to a state highway and had to be kept up for his own safety. He was allowed to run free, but only under Jerald’s supervision. Jerald had to be there to call him back when Nugget as much as glanced toward the highway.
But early this morning, Jerald was not there when Nugget decided to run like he had when he was young, free as the wind. When Jerald arrived and found him gone, he tried to follow, but Nugget circled back and headed home, happy to have his master follow him in a playful game. But he was old and his reflexes had slowed. He probably never saw the eighteen-wheeler.
As I turned the key in my Jeep to leave this morning, my recently acquired Tom T. Hall CD played "Old Dogs and Children and Watermelon Wine". Tom said, "Old dogs care about you, even when you make mistakes." So true. Jerald’s heart is broken over the loss of his loyal companion and I will certainly miss my old friend. I like to think that Nugget would have wanted to leave us this way, running free. He had serious health problems that were not going away. Maybe he knew it was time to go and wanted it to be on his own terms. Still, it’s hard to say goodbye.