The Gift

I was never the kind of mother that painstakingly folded her children’s clothes, matched and rolled their socks and lined them in their chest of drawers once they were old enough to do those things for themselves. In fact, I felt a burst of independence when my children were old enough to begin doing their own laundry. They already knew how to cook and at 12, my youngest was solo cooking family dinners. That meant dinner was ready when we got home from work, and I could get her to special events that much sooner.

So, it surprised me shortly before she turned 13, that the sting of being less than needed assaulted my sense of motherhood. Fear of the unknown, parenting and step-parenting five teenagers, gnawed at my bones. I began to feel an emptiness, a nagging void in my life that I was sure could only be filled by a dog, preferably a beagle.

I began to hint outrageously for a dog. You see, I not only wanted to nurture nature, I figured this dog should be a gift too. I had a birthday coming, it would be the perfect gift. I asked, begged and continued to hint with great enthusiasm. From time to time I would read the pet section of the classified ads out loud, while my husband drove us home from work. My husband would interrupt my reading and say, “Gee , honey, I don’t know maybe next year.” But I was an optimist and remained undaunted.

All through supper the night of my birthday, I’d look up from the table hoping to see a beagle, with a bow on its collar, working its way down the hallway to the dinning room. It never happened. After supper, I drew in my breath as Roger took my plate and replaced it with a coffee mug sized box. I pulled off the wrapping paper and tried to conceal my disappointment as I opened the box. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings just because I was disappointed.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

But when I opened the box, I had to choke down anger. Yes, I had been obnoxious in my hinting, but there was a stuffed animal dog in the box; that was cruel! If he was trying to be funny, he sure had missed. I lifted the dog out of the box, about to protest, when my eye caught sight of a piece of paper in the bottom of the box. Training paper I thought wryly, as I lifted it out of the box. But then my eyes saw these words, “This coupon entitles the bearer, Anne Michele Somerville, to the dog of her choice from Animal Rescue, signed Roger Somerville.” Tears rolled down my face. The kids came in the dining room and asked Roger was I was crying, but I couldn’t say a word.

The following Saturday we visited Animal Rescue and I did indeed find a beagle, a three year old named Sammy. He was a sweet and funny dog. We didn’t have any information about his past but he fit in just fine. It took him awhile to get us trained properly. Like many dogs, he was afraid of thunder storms. When the thunder started roaring, Sammy started shaking. He would look for the smallest possible places to squeeze himself into, including places he couldn’t get himself out of, like getting stuck under the china closet. More than once in our apartment, he crawled through the opening under an end table and squeezed himself behind the couch.

He was not afraid of heights though, once when we were gone he let himself into the parlor, pushing through the swinging door, climbed onto the recliner, to the top of the recliner and grabbed the peanut butter cheese crackers from the top of the book shelf and had himself a feast. His bag of peanut butter dog treats was open on the floor by the book case, but they were untouched. When we got home later that day we found the evidence, a few empty wrappers, on the landing of the steps, his favorite perch.

Sammy had what I considered an amazing sensitivity, in this respect. My mother would visit from Baltimore and had to bring her oxygen tank, which was not very portable back in those days. My family had had a dog in the 1950’s, but she was long past being used to being around a dog. She was fighting leukemia and she didn’t let her oxygen tank keep her down. But Sammy, instinctively I think, did not get under her feet as she walked, did not jump up on her, although he let her pet him and thankfully did not chew or step on or do anything to her oxygen tubing. As wonderful as our other dogs have been, I don’t think they would have had Sammy’s sensitivity. In truth, Sammy was pretty laid back and we used to joke that he was a California beagle.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

After the youngest graduated from high school and we moved from our house to a two bedroom apartment we decided to get a crate for Sammy. There were no teenagers living at home to look out for him while we were still at work and felt he needed to be more contained during the day. At this point we had had Sammy for five years, which made him about eight years old. In two weeks or less, he was not only used to the crate, he would go in there for a place to relax without being asked.

Sammy also traveled very well. A little over two years after moving into the apartment I was approved and appointed to serve three United Methodist Churches in North Central Pennsylvania. Sammy comfortably road on the front seat or the floor of the front seat of my car for the four hour drive. We moved in, to what turned out to be Sammy’s last home. I wanted a dog to fill an empty and aching spot in my heart and we found just the right dog and hopefully, he got just the right family.

When I say nice things about my husband, he teases me about tarnishing his carefully built reputation, but he was so right to point me in the direction of a rescue site. If you have a home full of love and room in your heart, I hope you will do the same. I am glad that we didn’t get a puppy from a pet store, but got a slightly older dog who needed to be part of a family.

I learned something from Sammy that I am only now beginning to understand. When we got Sam, I foolishly told my husband that I didn’t think dogs understood English. Actually they learn at least the basics of whatever language their family speaks. They can also tell time, well they think they can, especially when it is time to eat, or time for a snack. I wanted a dog to love and care for, but I had no idea that Sammy would begin the tradition of carving out his own space and become not just a pet, but a part of the family. I didn’t know when a pet died that it hurt in many ways as if it had been a family member; because that is exactly what Sammy was, family. He truly was the best gift.

Sammy was the first of four rescue dogs that have carved out space in our hearts and home in thirty-one years. And we have been the better for it!

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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Published by msomerville2014

About: Michele Somerville is a wife, mother, stepmother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin and friend. She lives with her husband and their dog Sheba. Sheba is their fourth rescue dog in 30 years. She is a retired ordained United Methodist Elder and serves two churches part-time in North Central Pennsylvania. She obtained her Bachelors’ Degree in 1999 from Mansfield University and her Master of Divinity in 2004 and Doctor of Ministry in 2016, both from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York. My Doctor of Ministry Thesis was:” Prophetic Words of Grace: Biblical Storytelling in the Local Church.” Michele began writing and performing character monologues for worship in 2008. She began by asking the question about nameless characters in the Bible, “What would they say if they could speak for themselves?” and then using her theological education and experience of the human condition to attempt an answer that is both academic and creative. Much of what you will read here are memories from growing up in a tourist town, in a bar, in the 1960’s, shaggy dog stories about our rescue dogs, life in a small town, and stories of faith and hope. Throughout her life she has lived in many states, including small towns, large towns and cities. She lived in Rota, Spain, for nine challenging months. Despite all the places she have lived since moving away from home in 1970,Michele is at the heart of all things Jack and Maggie’s daughter, and a beach girl from Onset, Massachusetts.

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