How old were you when you got your first pet?
What was it? What did you name it? Did you take care of it (like you promised you would) or did your mom end up feeding the poor thing before it starved to death?
I was about seven or eight when my dad took my sister and me to the home of one of the farm families who attended our church.
I can still remember walking into their barn and seeing a moving ball of fuzzy heads and wiggly keisters. I was giddy. I couldn't really believe what was happening: We were going to get a dog of our very own.
I think every rural community has this sequence as part of its cultural identity: A well-known farmer's much beloved dog, which isn't spayed and has at least one litter a year until she meets her maker, has about eight of the cutest, fluffiest, nicest puppies you-ever-did-see. When the pups get old enough to leave their mom, a cardboard sign gets pinned to a tree: "FREE PUPPIES." Since the mother dog and its previous spawn of nicest-dogs-on-earth (not to be confused with the smartest kid from eighth grade math), the new pups are in hot demand.
This particular blend of farm bitch was a St. Bernard-collie mix, and she was sweet.
Somehow we managed to leave with the very one they'd considered keeping -- The runt: a mostly white fluff ball with a few large tan splotches and a curvy tail of cascading fur. If we hadn't known she'd been born on that farm to an brown mutt and whatever managed to get over the fence, we might have mistaken her for a Great Pyrenees.
We named her Sheba. And she cried for hours that first night until mom couldn't stand it any more and put her in the garage, where she'd fallen asleep immediately. She was a barn dog through and through.
But she was also a family dog, her care was a family endeavor; my dad fed her (for the most part), my mom cleaned up after her (especially when she was sick), and I taught her to sit, to stay and to heel.
She roamed all over the neighborhood, and to places that seemed too far for a dog to go all by herself ... especially when she was always home at 3 o'clock to meet the bus and walk us home.
She was a kind of magical dog, too, some of her exploits etched in our family's lore. We all remember the day when mom looked into the refrigerator and made the grand announcement that she was out of bread. She'd have to sent us out the door that day with money for the school cafeteria instead of sandwiches. When we'd gathered our coats, and boots and bookbags and were ready to trudge to the busstop -- dollars in pocket and dreams of Turkey and Tator Tots -- we were all surprised to see the dog sitting on the other side of that door, carefully holding a loaf of bread in her mouth and looking up at my mother. It was an offering nabbed, no doubt, off the back of a truck delivering to the grocery store one block away.
We all loved that dog.
**Coming soon ... I forgot to look through old pictures that I might scan. So perhaps tomorrow, I'll show you my first dog.