Grace under pines.
In 2007, Lily and I were excitingly on our way to pick up our new puppy, Gideon. A chocolate Lab from nearby farm neighbors. In a litter of thirteen, Gideon was the fat, roly poly cream of the crop. She had robust written all over her thick coat, eyes that sparkled a deep chestnut brown and a tail more expressive than any I'd seen, even at 8 weeks, this pup bubbled over with potential. The only drawback was that she had a shadow, a puny lop eared, stunt-tailed side kick; the runt of the litter who seemed to have no mind of her own, mirrored her giant sibling in every way except...every way. The farmer's wife sadly picked up the pint size runt and declared her ineligible for adoption, no one wanted her. The pup was slow and skinny, she had a coat of pure muckly colors that did not, could not and would never shine. This pup seemed to be cursed with the lack of every thing a cute puppy had going for it. No exceptions. Her eyes only focused on light and movement and even then, focus was not the word- startled, over stimulated movement was the only thing that seemed to reach her, with the exception of Gideon. Apparently not-yet-adopted-and-named-Grace was born still. No movement, no breathing, mama dog hadn't even bothered to clean the little mass of last born runt of the litter. The presumption was- the last of the litter did not survive. The farmer's wife, being a big hearted softie- recalled to me that she picked up the pup with tears in her eyes... though still, she rubbed and peeled back the gooey stuff from the pup and rubbed some more. A wiggle came. And soon another wiggle and finally a writhing- the tiny slimy thing was alive.
"My husband says I can't keep even one from the litter and no one will want this dog...it's sad really, she just follows this big one around..."
Had I arrived alone at that farm, I would have left with the one pup- even though I had nothing but empathy for the farmer's wife and the runt- I had no need for two Labs, two sisters, twice the trouble and dog feed and vet expenses. But that's just not how it worked out. Lily was with me and pleaded with her eyes and hands all over the young mutt. Lily is a really cool person. She's not one to ask for much, and she knew the hardships we were facing income-wise, she realized I could not afford much of a dog, let alone two. But she saw something in the pup that no body wanted- she saw a certain Grace about her, and from then on- that was how she became our Grace. (Gracie Jane when she was in trouble.....)
And may I say at this moment, at this writing- I long for her. I wish I could have saved her, showed her more of my almost missed opportunity of how my life became better and more and so deeply inspired because of Grace. She rapidly deteriorated from a bone cancer that viciously affects young dogs- she was to go in for X-rays yesterday, possibly come out with an amputation that could very well save her life but it was not to be.
"I've never seen such a happy dog with so much cancer all through her..." the Vet had whispered to me right before I held her sweet head and wished her love and thanksgiving, right before that final sigh of a breath. And I carried her out of there and placed her on the rug, in the pick-up waiting for her gentle return home. Instead, well....a sick spot in my heart and stomach, a space in my very soul that only that dog could fill. I wanted to tell her story as Grace was so very aptly named. I wanted to tell about her way, her crazy eyes, her squirrelly charm. About...
The dog that acted like no other, looked like no other, behaved like a wild thing instead of a domestic dog meant to keep safe the farm. The dog that took a full six months more to learn a simple command of sit than her sibling did...and always these things were learned on her own terms. On a full moon night, after an exhausting day of working with Grace, trying to reach her...I awoke in the middle of the night, looked out upon the front yard cast full in the soft eerie glow of the moon through the maples- and there sat one of the oddest things I've ever seen. Grace. Sitting. Finally. Staring straight at the house. In my half sleep way, I felt such a triumph, not that I was any great teacher- but somehow I had finally reached Grace. I remember quickly retrieving a milk-bone and gently opening and closing the front porch screen, not wanting to disturb Gracie's trance like state, wanting oh so much to be able to walk out there and give her that well deserved treat. She sat. I walked, hardly believing this reality...she accepted the treat. "Good girl" I said. And that was that. From then on, with probably more sifting through the brain connections than most had to do- Grace learned to sit.
She always buried the dog dish. She could not bear it uncovered. She loved to roll in the rain, in the wet grass and make awful noisy commotions, but still Grace noises- I can explain it no better. She always stayed up all night on full moons...she barked at it. Not howling, not singing- barking, yipping, high pitched yelps. I will miss that very much. She was born a Labrador but ran like a Greyhound chasing after the Killdeer that were so prevalent on our Illinois fields. She never caught one, I don't believe that was her intention- she simply loved running. Always on bike rides, Etta would be the first out of the gate- a quick little goober. Gideon next, with her long strong strides, me following on my rickety rackety Schwinn and there'd be Miss Grace, bringing up the rear. She always outlasted the rest of us, never broke a sweat, showed no emotion through eyes or tail, just simply burst through in her goofy galloping way and we could never catch her after the half mile mark. None of us. I would quietly sneak up on her, almost touching her tail and then hit hard my pedals, pumping my farmer gal legs trying to at least get past that nose, winning this race just once...but Grace would simply glance with her eyes, never tilt the head that was faced towards the setting sun. She'd adjust accordingly that gait, the likes I'd never seen before in a dog- and win the race towards the end of day light at the stop sign- every single time. She was something. Awkwardly elegant. Gently dignified. She was one ugly, lovely dog with eyes that never will leave my memory.
And I said last night, as I will every night I suspect-
Good night Gracie, where ever you are...