Psychologists say that a person's earliest recollection can sometimes be linked to the way they perceive the world as adults. Looking back on my own life, I can recall a bright spring morning, when my mother took my hand and walked me down our driveway past an old black car and the side of the house, to see our first dog, Daisy.
I was only 15 months old at the time, but I vividly remember stepping out into the sunlight in our backyard and seeing a small white picket fence attached to the side of the garage. Inside the fence was a dog house my father had built, and lying next to Daisy in the grass, were 10 little pups. She had given birth to her first litter, and they looked exactly like her, all black and white, only much smaller of course. That experience has stayed with me now for nearly 70 years, and I suppose it contributed to my fondness for all animals, but it was also my first sensation about life, and the miracle of birth. Somehow, I understood what Daisy had done, and what her puppies represented.
We always had dogs in our family during my childhood, and quite a few cats along with them. Much later in life, after I graduated from high school, my parents adopted a handsome, full-grown English Setter. They named him, “Norman.”
Norman was an instant hit with the family. He was the most docile and humorous dog we had ever owned. His favorite spot was an old wicker rocking chair, right next to the television, and at times, he seemed to be watching the programs as intensely as any human being. My father liked to dress him up in different outfits, and take photos of him in the chair wearing a cowboy hat, or an overcoat, complete with a scarf and other accessories. Norman took it all in stride, and seemed to enjoy the attention, curling his lips back now and then to smile at his adoring audience. I suppose he was a bit of a ham, as far as dogs go, but he also had a heart of gold.
When my father's brother, Uncle George, developed terminal lung cancer, my parents invited him and my Aunt Edna to live with us, and take the master bedroom. After a few months, my uncle's condition deteriorated very rapidly, and in the last month of his life, he was confined to bed, unable to walk or care for himself. Every day, Norman would come into his room, lay his head on the side of the bed, and stand there while my uncle petted him. They had a very special bond, and as the end of my uncle’s life began to draw near, Norman seemed to understand what was happening. He would curl up at the foot of the bed while my uncle slept, unwilling to leave him, or to give up the closeness they shared.
As life would have it, the night came when my uncle passed away. Norman stayed in the room the next day, while the family said their goodbyes, and the funeral director came to remove his body. We could not imagine how Norman would react, or how deeply a dog might grieve, until the following morning.
When my mother went into the room to remove the sheets and bedding, she found Norman lying in his usual spot at the foot of the bed. She began to remove the covers, and called for him to get up, but sometime during the night, in that empty room, Norman himself had passed away, too.
No one knows the depth of love and affection a dog might feel for a human-being, or how easily their hearts can be broken, but one thing is certain, the bond between Norman and my Uncle George was one that would last into eternity.