Scottie (or Scarlet, as she was eventually called) lived in a “gated community” under and behind the back porch of my childhood home.
The neighborhood I grew up in had strict ordinances governing the interaction of house architecture and trees, so everybody’s back porches had a couple of pine trees growing up through them.
These were wood porches built to accommodate the trees that had survived the clearing the house-building had incurred. As such, porch trees merited the kind of quiet respect a war veteran receives. They were survivors, and though at times they were just weird, we put up with them, embraced them. We were proud of them.
Scarlet (who had previously been called Scottie) was mostly golden retriever. She loved catching and returning any ball you threw in her general vicinity. Often, we’d let her out of her fenced in area under and behind the back porch to play catch in the front yard.
Once, mowing the grass, I found a medium-sized rock in the yard and tossed it high across the street. Scarlet ran under it to catch it. She had broken a couple of teeth and was bleeding from her mouth when she returned it to me. I stopped the mower, pocketed the rock, and hugged her for a few minutes.
“You stupid, stupid dog,” I complained.
When she was Scottie, she was a boy dog. (Officially named “Butterscotch” for her golden-orange coat.) Bought at a pet store in 1978 I think…maybe ’79. Eventually, she gave birth to seven puppies. At this point, my parents determined that he was a girl dog. So we followed our phonetics to Scarlet. I don’t think she ever noticed the difference.
There were cats, black cats, inside the house (Leather first, then Gizmo) but even though the cats seemed more ubiquitous, Scarlet seemed more a part of the family…to me at least.
The large bay window in my second floor bedroom overlooked her pen in the back, so in many ways, she existed like a painting on the wall of my childhood.
On cold mornings she wrapped herself in a tight ball and waited for it to be warm again. On hot mornings she walked around, looking for a new adventure.
Middays in the summer, cooling off in my bedroom, I could look out at her down there. Loyal Scarlet. There whenever we needed her. Eager to please. Ready for the bounce of a stray tennis ball.
Later in life I would be overwhelmed by the realization that dogs had no idea that death awaited them. But as a child and teenager, I was not that sentimental about pets. They were like living furniture to me…a part of our collection of things in middle class suburbia. They were actually kind of obvious. I mean, almost everyone had a dog, why shouldn’t we? They were like living stuffed animals…that actually ate and pooped! How great is that? And though yes, eventually, most got run over by cars, there were new dogs to buy or find. Which brings me to my point, I think.
There will always be a dog. And, in a way, each one will be Scottie (I mean, Scarlet). Just like there will be couches and dining room chairs and flush handles on toilets. These passing blurs of world around us. And I think they are here, with us, for a reason. An important reason. A slow-down-and-notice-all-the-living reason.
Funny. I don’t remember when Scarlet died. I think it was when I was in college or just before I left for college. She didn’t make the move to the new family house in 1990. She just…passed away. My life accelerated away from pine tree back porches, surprise puppy litters, and stupid, stupid dogs.
When I look at this old photo of Scottie (circa 1979 or ’80, I think), I am reminded of the blur. And the loving details that existed in that snap shot moment of past life. It’s the tiny glimpse of pink dog tongue that gets me.Dogs are alive all the time. Until they just aren’t anymore.