The beginning: One Saturday a few weeks before Christmas and a few weeks after my eleventh or twelfth birthday, my mom and dad returned home from their monthly trip to the supermarket. As usual, my sister and I came down to the garage to help carry up the many bags of groceries. This time, they asked me to carry up a cardboard box from the rear seat, and as I was carrying it up the stairs a puppy popped its little head out! They had visited the local animal shelter and picked out a collie mix for me (I was a big fan of Lassie, on TV Sunday nights). It was the best Christmas present I could have gotten! I was beside myself.
Of course, I had to name her Lassie, although she was a mix and never quite grew to a collie's full size. She was about three months old, and fluffy with baby collie fur.
Lassie followed along with me everywhere. We were fortunate enough to live in a largely rural area, just a mile from the town limits, and in a largely rural state. Our house and the others that had been built later than ours on a family-owned farm were surrounded by hills, woods, creeks, and cow pastures. This was my domain, growing up. And Lassie became my constant companion in my exploration of those hills and creek bottoms where the cows' hooves had sunk so far into the mud that they left holes. She was with me when I felt around on the creek bottom for crawdads, which would shoot backward with surprising speed when groped by a boy's hand. She followed me on my newspaper route before school in the mornings, in the cold and snow of winter before daybreak and in the coolness of the in-between hour in spring when the sun has risen but has not yet made an impression and the spring peepers are still croaking.
In this small neighborhood, there were no walls or fences delineating property lines, and leashes were unknown to the dogs. They were free to come and go as they pleased, and everyone knew where each dog lived. And in all those years, I do not believe I ever saw a dog fight.
As Lassie and I went from house to house delivering the newspapers, other dogs joined in along the way, until we had five or more dogs trooping along with us. They knew the route as well as I, and towards the end as I was working my way back home, they would drop off one by one until it was once again just Lassie and me. The only time the routine varied was when the temperature dipped to zero or below for awhile in January. Then it was mostly just the two of us. And so my memories of my first dog are intertwined with memories of cold winter mornings when a full moon reflecting off the snow brought a brightness that was burned forever into my memory.
The problems came with summer. (To be continued in my next post.)