Yesterday, on a bright and sunny autumn day, Ginger died. Ginger was one of my closest and most loyal friends for over a decade. When she first arrived at Beech Springs on a hot summer’s day in 1992, I wasn’t looking for a friend. In fact, I had little need for one that had breath like Ginger’s, shed like Ginger, was in the way as much as she, and was just plain as bothersome. Ginger started out as a puppy like all good dogs--cute, cuddly and sassy. I think she knew from the start that there was one person in the household really worth the challenge of winning; and that was me. Everyone else loved her, played with her and took care of her. There was only one that kept some distance--the master of the house. I had taken to feeding her when I awoke in the morning since I was the only one accustomed to rising before the sun. Ginger took this, I believe, to be a sign. “If he feeds me, he needs me!” Thus motivated, she took aim at my heart.
We had two dogs in those days, Cinders and Ginger. Cinders was old and getting more decrepit with each passing month. He and I had been taking early morning walks for years but the time had come to hang up the old leash. Simply, he couldn’t get his old frame up any more in the morning. In stepped Ginger. For a while I walked alone but each day as I left the house I was greeted by Ginger’s bright yellow lab countenance. “Take me! Take me!” I could read it in her eyes. “I’m ready. I know how to sit, stay and, better yet, heel!” And so, one beautiful autumn morning, Ginger and I became walking friends.
Walking friends are a special breed. Expectations are few. Simply, keep the same pace and don’t force a conversation. Keeping pace was not problem for a lab so full of energy. I seldom had to slow down to wait for Ginger. And conversation? Well, it was pretty much one way and dependent upon her eyes and my thoughts.
In a short time Ginger and I became ardent walking friends. She the ideal silent companion and I the loving caretaker. Ginger was a very good walking companion as she was comfortable on a leash and seldom caused me to lose a step in the morning. She was up and ready to go most days at the crack of dawn. All I had to do was to reach for that leash and she would bound from her appointed place in the breezeway to my side. Over the years we walked nearly 2,500 miles together. I wore out several pairs of shoes and a couple of pullovers. She kept her nails neatly trimmed and went through a couple of leash changes. Ginger became my dog; something I thought would never happen.
But time passes quickly for a dog and before I knew it, bad hips and other canine maladies crept up on my Ginger. She wasn’t quite as eager to go in the mornings and I had to slow down my walking pace. Heeling had become academic since she most often lagged behind me. What had been a good trot had become a walk. Finally, several months ago it all ended. I hung up the leash and gave her a pat on the head. “Not today, Girl. You’re just in too much pain today.” That was the last time we walked together. I walk alone now in the mornings, retrieving my old steady pace. And, until this morning, I would greet old Ginger by her stove-side bed with a “Good morning!” and then depart on my walk.
Yesterday Ginger died and she is buried up on the hill next to good old Cinders. I sat for a long time next to her open grave staring down at her ...
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