I can't remember where I was going when I opened the front door of the house I lived in during college. I'm pretty sure the year was 1993 and I glanced on my front stoop to find a chocolate brown puppy with the biggest paws I'd ever seen. It was love at first sight. However,I knew with the rigors of college life and the inconsistent amount of time I spent at the house, I couldn't keep him. But, I had an idea.
I was headed home that weekend to visit my parents with the requisite laundry basket in tow. I walked in the back door, set the basket on the table in front of my animal-lovin' mother. She caught a glimpse of two paws sticking out from under an old ratty t-shirt and said, while shaking her head back and forth feverishly, "No way. Nope. Don't even think about it."
Fast forward a few years and you'll find Sam, or "Sambo" as my mother lovingly referred to him, cozied up on the sofa next to her as she did cross-stitch or watched her favorite television show. Her shadow in every sense of the word, Sam would trot along beside my Mom and, upon hearing the familiar voices of family and friends, would spin his tail around in a fierce circular motion-- affectionately to become known as "helicopter tail".
Sambo always had a twinkle in his eye and loved "his people" to the point of doing a hind-end wiggly dance every time we would come around. During my Mom's illness a few years ago, it was as if he sensed what was going on and became quite protective of her-- always lying at her feet or close by.
When Mom passed away, it was as if a little bit of the sparkle faded in Sam's eyes. His "person," the one whom he had shadowed and admired all those years was no longer there. For the next five years, he became good pals with one of the cats of the family and enjoyed many hours chasing butterflies in the backyard and playing the role of "tough guard dog" for passersby... giving those of us privy to his kind, gentle spirit quite a chuckle.
The years have rolled on and we lost Sam today. My Dad called in tears to tell me that they had to have him put to sleep. I didn't react the way I always anticipated that I would. Instead of tears, years of fond recollections scrolled through my head...all the times that Sam had greeted us or showered us with an unconditional love that only man's best friend can provide.
The next time I go home to Alabama, it won't quite be the same. The hind-wiggling greeting I've grown accustomed to won't be there and the house will seem a little more sad now that Sambo is gone.
And, although my beliefs won't allow me to place Sambo in Heaven with my Mom like I wish I could, I know there is a special place where he'll always be young, he'll always have a spring in his step and where he's leaping in wide open spaces with no end. In this place, the most special of places meant for the most special of dogs... there is a beautiful "mutt" of a dog, running free and remembering fondly all the times he greeted "his people" with a sparkle in his eye and a thick brownish/black helicopter tail spinning in the breeze.