Original writings by Adrienne Nater

The Promise:  Ginger Returns
 

Our eyes are fixed on one another. It has been a long time. I figured it out, fifty-five human years. The last time I saw her she was thirteen. I was three.

 “Stay behind the yellow line,” commands the freight handler.

 The building is gigantic: metal shelving floor to ceiling, cement flooring, boxes stacked one atop the other, machines moving, people shouting as they rush through the early morning arrival and departure cargo.

A man directs his forklift over to my crate, lifts it up and drives to the yellow line. I am gently lowered to the cement floor. My old companion follows the progress with her tear filled eyes, but she’s laughing at the same time, jumping from one foot to the other. She does really remember me? I remember her! I have no doubts about this. I am back, back home at long last, back to my precious Buddy.

Our eyes remain locked on one another. All around us, on every side are people, cars, trucks and t he noises in the building. We hear nothing; see nothing, only each other. She hasn’t forgotten me!

She’s brought some goodies, hot dogs I’ll bet, and her own scented soft blanket for me to lie on for our trip home.

It is a beautiful day. The sun is and I, I am going home. I am going to be free to roam the ranch. Free to see and sense everything, with her. I will be by her side; where I belong.  No one will part us this time.

I watch as she reaches over to open the shipping crate. She doesn’t wait for anyone to tell her that it’s permissible. I can see that her hands are trembling. Now the tears are running down her cheeks. She doesn’t have to reach in for me. I am in her arms.

“Hello again!” I cried.

“Hello my lovely Ginger, she answers. “It’s you! My, oh my! It is really you! I’m so thankful, so overwhelmed! It’s hard to believe! You have returned! For a lifetime I doubted that we would ever be together again. It’s been so long.”

I know that kissing in public is not in the best of manners, but I can’t help myself; to hell with the public! In this life I didn’t have much of a tail to wag, so I wiggled all over; with my paws on her shoulders, I kiss away her tears.

 “You ought to have known better than that!” I whisper to her. “We promised one another. We said that one-day, some how, we would find our lives interwoven for a second time, no matter how long it took. Of course, even I didn’t know it would be this long either.”

“That’s what we screamed to one another on that terrible day when we were separated.”

“That’s a day I wish I could forget, it was so horrible.”

“Me too! I have tried to dismiss it from my memory but …”

“You know that I had no choice, the men just dragged me to the truck. I struggled and pulled and yanked at the end of the rope. You tried to stop them. I saw her holding you. I heard your screaming. I can still feel your last embrace as I was torn from your arms. I was crying.”

“You were crying?’ I only heard barking.”

“That what dogs do.”

“You know I tried to find out where they had taken you. Then we were going to run away.”

“Even if you found out where, you wouldn’t have been in time.”

She sighed, “Yes, it seems like it was only yesterday.”

“Do you remember when we first saw one another? Now that was some amazing day.”

“I have never forgotten.”

She slips a leash on my collar and we walk for a bit. The airplane ride wasn’t too long but I feel like stretching out before the ride home, that and some other business. Her hand was constantly stroking my head. I walk as close as I can to her legs. My body caresses her as we move along a dirt area. After a few minutes, it is time to get on the road home. I leap into the front seat of the white truck. She climbs into the wheel side. She can’t keep her hands off of me. I can’t stop kissing her.

“Want a snack? I brought raw hot dogs. I don’t know why I brought raw hot dogs. It just popped into my head, don’t forget hot dogs.”

“I sent you a mental message. You can’t imagine my excitement when I heard that I was being retired from the breeding program at the kennel; sent to a ranch in California to a person named Buddy. I envisioned all sorts of memories. Yes, raw hot dogs have always been my favorite snack, yours too. You would sneak them out of the refrigerator when we went on our exploring jaunts. I’ll have one now, thank you. Too many and I may get car sick.”

“We’ll both have, just one.”

“You don’t mind if I put my head in your lap?” The traffic on the city’s freeways looks dangerous. It is rush hour too. I don’t want to be a distraction.

“I would welcome your nearness.” She strokes my ears. Scratches me under my chin. Lifts my head and gazes into my eyes. What a grand familiar feeling.

“You remember our first meeting?

“How could I ever forget?”

“Ginger, I never asked you, what was it like before we met?”

I kissed her hand again and again, reminding her to keep both hands on the wheel.

“Well, let’s see. My foremost memory: the noise, continuous, day and night. Then the cold: penetrating, floor to ceiling. I was never warm. And then the loneliness: so absolute. I wasn’t alone, but I was alone. Confused. Miserable. It was the wet time of the year: short days, early darkness.

I retreated to a back corner of this tall wire cage. I huddled there shivering, hiding, but hoping. I made myself as small as possible. I wrapped my tail under my body. I had a tail then, I am sure you remember that.”

“A beautiful tail. But tails don’t make the dog.” She glances down radiating happiness.

“The shelter was not crowded during the early mornings. The attendants wore brown outfits and black rubber boots. Their time was spent going from one cage to the other, hosing down the cement floors before the morning meals were served. They were silent, methodical, and impersonal. The sounds of metal bowls on cement, barking, whining, the crash of furry bodies against wire enclosures, all inescapable, tragic.”

I can tell that she is visualizing the scene, so I go on with my story.

“All the other orphan dogs in my cage were big. Every time the door opened they would rush to the front of the cage, sliding through the wet, throwing any recently deposited debris all over everything and everyone. I hated the stink. I hated the: Bark, bark, bark, take me, take me, please, take me.”

“I can relate to the stink and the wet and the din of all the voices.” She interjected.

“All I could do was to hide my head under my paws and peek out whenever the barking signaled the arrival of possible adopters. It would get quiet again as people left.”

“In animal shelters dogs come and go, people come and go. Some leave together, others do not. You, like so many dogs were part of the lost and the unwanted.”

No one had been able to keep me, not my mother, who had done her best to raise me, or the human owners. I became one of the many who are dumped in places like that, the fates to decide our future, if there was to be a future.”

“That won’t ever happen to you again. So then---“

“So, then the barking and chaos started. I peeked out through a gap between my paws; I saw you, your hands covering your ears, being pushed along by your parents. Pushed right by my cage. You were so small. I saw you glance in my direction with those big blue eyes.”

“I caught a glimpse of you in the corner. They had a good hold on me. Not much that I could do at that moment.”

“I prayed that you would come back.” I pressed in closer to her as we moved along the road.

“I was promised my own puppy. They had this cantankerous Terrier/Chow mix, Rusty. He was always running away, a world-class bum. The puppy choice was to be mine. I saw you, cringing at the back. But, they did not give me a chance to stop. They wanted to look in the boy dog pens. I wanted a girl dog.”

“But, you came back. You were alone, too. Getting away from your folks was a masterful move. I realized that after I got to know them. I never asked you before, how did you manage that?”

“I waited until they were totally engrossed checking out the dogs at the end of the opposite side of the building. I crept away and found your cage. The big dogs were bouncing against the front entrance to the cage. I had to squat down and hang onto the wire to peer in.”

“I saw your sweet face in between the legs and feet that were flailing out in every direction. I couldn’t move I was too scared. I would have been trampled.”

“Your eyes said it all, ‘please, take me’ I was determined! You were going to be my pup.”

“It wasn’t a popular decision. Your folks came back. I saw them shake their heads. No, no, no! Your Mom took hold of one of your hands and tried to pull you away. You hung on to the cage with the other. I saw you begin to cry. I heard you wail, I saw you fight their efforts to drag you to another cage. You were shouting, over and over, ‘you promised!’ Everyone was sending disapproving looks their way. Were they ever embarrassed! But at last, they shrugged their shoulders and nodded. They sure weren’t happy.”

“I was too young to understand consequences. But at that moment it really didn’t matter. I knew how you felt. You had been cast off. Abandoned. Left to survive as best you could in a chaotic new situation. We were ‘heart and soul mates’.”

“A kennel keeper was called. He unlocked the cage, yelled at the dogs as he swung his arms and kicked the most aggressive dogs back. He reached down into my corner. He was surprisingly gentle as he picked me up, a smelly ball of fur. I was frightened. I was helpless. I was handed to you. I felt secure. I was a big bundle for a little nine-year-old to carry. No matter, you managed.”

“I wasn’t about to ask for help.”

“You looked at me and said, hello there. I am going to name you Ginger; you look like a ginger cookie baked to a perfect reddish/brown. You’re going to be my pal, my special friend. You can call me your Buddy.”

“What a memory. I had quite forgotten. I named you even before we left the shelter.”

“I could curl my entire body into your lap back then; you did not seem to mind that I was a mess.”

“Oh, I minded. But I dared not say a thing knowing that a complaint might be a signal a return to the pound for an exchange. I deliberately ignored your unseemly condition. I was planning to bath you as soon as we arrived at the house.”

“Boy, oh, boy! Do I remember that first bath! But, first you went to war against my fleas.”

This reminiscing is so much fun. I love to see her smiling, even when we are talking about the tough times we had together. She hasn’t changed too much: taller, hair shorter, white, curly. It was once silky black in long waist length curls. Her touch so loves.

“I put you through so many unpleasant experiences those first days. I made a mental list.”

“Erase it! And you, please, accept my profound apologies for being unable to make it to the yard to relieve myself. I knew better. I was just so nervous with all the yelling, screaming and violent behavior around us. I know that this was a big factor in our separation. This plus, they never wanted me, right from that first moment.”

 “It’s time to dismiss that sorrow, isn’t it? It’s all past, right? My life is peaceful now.”

“What about that first day! In fact, that first hour! Embarrassing!”

“Come on, as I think about it now, it was comical.”

“So, OK let’s clear the first day data bank and get on with it.”

“Number one: the flea treatment. The fleas were thick all over your body. Your belly was covered with blood from their bites. I put you in a pillowcase, dumped in the entire can of powder, tied the top around your neck. I rubbed and fluffed and shook the bag.

Fleas came running down your nose, jumping for dear life. I powdered your head, your ears, your neck. You were so tolerant.”

“Tolerant! Did I have a choice? I hated every moment of the treatment. I’ll admit it now. It was a relief. No more itching and scratching. I think that you worked on me for hours. It felt like forever! And, you weren’t through. Not by a long shot.”

“Number two: you smelled with the grime from the Pound. You had to have a bath! You got even with me during that session.”

“Well, shaking is the natural behavior for a wet down dog. If you had been experienced at dog washing you would have kept my head high.”

“Certainly, you didn’t expect experience from a child? You have to admit that you ended up clean, fairly flea less, and your coat was silky smooth.”

“The brushing after the fluff dry was the best part of the afternoon. I adored your attention.”

They move across the city highways. Ginger is in a sitting position. She has her head resting on her Buddy’s shoulder. She is watching the other vehicles. Every once in a while someone looks at them quizzically. They are obviously deep in conversation.

“Isn’t this area near to our old haunts?”

“Not too far. It has changed, as some things must. Our acres and acres of open land are covered with high-rises; the streetcars have given way to smoky buses, the vacant lot in the middle of the block, replaced with an ugly house. Not too many trees left and the families we knew are gone.”

“Remember the day we caught an owl and you took it to the pet store? You traded it for some dog cookies for me. Exploring with you is something to write about.”

“It was you who made my escapes from the house so complete. With you by my side---each day--- every available hour---a great adventure, a sense of a peaceful release from problems.”

“There was always something unpleasant going on.”

“And what about the F*U*C*K that was painted on one of the abandoned buildings. I knew it was a bad word. I don’t know why but children know these things. You ignored it.”

“Why bother with stupidity.”

“Remember the Red Ryder B-B Gun that I kept hidden in the wood pile and carried on our jaunts in the fields? Mother never found out, I don’t think that she did. I never knew with her.”

“And you were a good shot, too. Never shot at animals but at the targets you drew on the wooden planks. When our days were done we were so tired.”

“I especially remember that you always climbed into bed with me.”

“Oh, yes, and I wasn’t supposed to be there. Every time I heard footsteps approach the closed door, I would jump down and pretend that my body had been on the floor since lights off time. As soon as the door was closed, I would jump right back up. What a marvelous game.”

“I slept so much better with you near me.”

“And I was with you when you did your homework, when you cleaned house, when you washed the dishes, when you weeded and raked the garden, when you took a shower, when you sat at the dining table, when you went to school, I waited for you at the front gate. I was your shadow.”

 

The city disappears behind them as they travel over the crest of the hill. Their attention is focused on the valley. Not the valley of years ago but a spread of low-rise homes, strip malls, five-dollar cars intermingled with $150,000+ vehicles of wretched ostentatious excess. Freeways crisscross in every direction as they make their way home.

“You don’t live out in this mess do you? Is that the smog that I have heard about? I am sure that there are nice neighborhoods around here but this looks is so crowded and confining. You live on a ranch, right?”

“Be patient! Thirty more minutes and we will be home. I have a surprise waiting there for you.”

“If you are talking about the other dog, I know all about her.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Of course not. She’s my daughter.”

I was trying not to laugh at her expression, but it just happened. She was so shocked! I courteously turned away and watched our progress as we made a turn onto a new road going west. As we moved along, the land was more spacious: with trees, horses, cattle, fewer cars and houses.

“I don’t know what to say. How do you know it’s your daughter?”

“Trust me, I know, I’ll tell you about it some other time.”

“She’s a lovely pup. I named her Amazing Gracie. She just lost her old friend, Chelsea. You know that too?”

“Of course! That’s why I am here. The timing was perfect.”

 

The miles melt away as they talk. One memory triggers another and another: Ginger’s life in Colorado, her adventures as a show dog, herd dog, a companion dog, a momma dog, her many families; Buddy’s teaching career, horse showing, surfing, scuba diving, the brief political career, adventures flying her Cessna 140 in Hawaii, to Mexico, Alaska, and points across the country. The people they had both met and loved and those worth forgetting.

 “Aren’t we there yet?”

“Just a minute away. It’s around the next curve, adjacent to the horse ring, the house with the chain-link fencing.”

“My most cherished Buddy, let’s make a deal right now. When we drive through the gate no more talking in public, only if there is a real need. Gracie is a bit sensitive. If you have to share some other memories with me or I you, let’s wait until we are alone. OK??

“You’re right. It’s the best way to go. I was hoping you would bring it up. Your daughter might not understand.”

“She will as she matures, but it’s too soon for her to absorb this level of life.”

“She is smart, just like you.”

“Gosh, Buddy, I almost forgot. Will you E-mail Daddy Joseph? Let him know that I arrived safely and that I am very happy.”

“You’re the same, loving, polite and thoughtful.”

“You taught me well.”

“My Ginger girl, it’s good to have you back.”

“Buddy, my dearest, it’s so good to be home.”

The gate moves back to open the way to a renewed loving friendship. They are together. The sun is shining. It is a beautiful day.

 They will be parted again one from the other after eight more years. But this time it will be a gentle passing from one sphere of life to another. This time Ginger will be waiting for her Buddy’s return in a place of rest and tranquility.