My mom and dad had a coppery little cocker spaniel when I was very young. Her name was Penny and she was my favorite playmate. Penny followed me and retrieved the ball for me and chased me and played “hide and seek.” She became the sibling I would never have and she was a great substitute because she never argued or wanted to take my toys. Well, most of the time, anyway!
There was a time that I became aware of a change in Penny. She had gotten fat and didn’t want to do much more than lay around on the floor. I asked my mom why she didn’t want to play anymore and it was then that my mother let me know that Penny was going to be a mommy and that she was carrying puppies in her ever-sagging belly. Since Penny was like a sister to me, I was concerned about her and told her that I would be with her to help her take care of her puppies once they arrived. I wanted to know how they would get out and, after Mom had a discussion with Dad, was told that I would be able to see when the time came.
Well, Penny’s time came in the middle of a very deep sleep on a cold and very dark night. My mom shook me gently and said that Penny’s puppies were coming and that I should put on my robe and slippers. We hurried to the basement where a box had been set up for the birth and a larger box was ready to house the new family. It was toasty warm in the basement next to the furnace and my mom and dad stayed with me as we watched the wonder of birth. Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of little fat worm-like bundles squirting out of the back end of my dog who was whimpering, then looking, then licking these new arrivals to remove some stuff that resembled Vaseline. Once cleaned up I could see that these new little puppies sported legs and a tail, but there was no visible hair. They looked pink or black or a mixture of the two, but there was no hair! “How will they keep warm?” I asked. Mom and Dad explained that, for a few weeks, the puppies would remain warm next to Penny and the furnace until their hair grew in. Since it was winter, I offered to give them my blanket, but my parents showed me the warm towels they’d provided for the family’s new “home-in-a-box” and assured me that Penny’s body heat, along with that of the furnace, would be enough to keep them warm. After the last little fur-less wonder had escaped into the air, I reminded Penny of my earlier promise to help her with her puppies and went happily to bed.
The next morning, I wasn’t sure if I had dreamed the event until my dad took me down to see the jumble of sleeping dogs. It was hard to tell where each puppy began and ended, so I voiced my concern that one might suffocate. Daddy said that their mama would take good care of them and that they were used to sleeping so close to each other in Penny’s belly. I was satisfied for the moment and left the sleeping bundles to have breakfast.
True to my word, as often as I was allowed, I visited Penny and her family and watched them eat and grow and play and sprout some hair. Their box was big enough for lots of exercise, but Penny always seemed tired. Mommy explained that she was taking care of her new family and they were hungry day and night, so new mommies didn’t get much sleep. I asked if she’d be tired forever and my mom laughed and said the puppies would be eating different food soon and Penny would get more sleep when the puppies could take care of themselves. I was worried for Penny, but Mommy assured me that she, and the puppies, would be chasing me soon enough.
When I learned that the puppies would be going away to new homes, I cried my heart out! How could Penny be separated from her babies? Wouldn’t she miss them? Wouldn’t they miss her? My mom reminded me that Penny had a mommy, too. Hadn’t Penny come to live with us and didn’t we love her and take very good care of her and hadn’t Penny’s mommy stayed at the home where she was cared for and loved? Of course I wanted to keep them all so that the family could stay together, but I was overruled! However, since I had forged a special friendship with the smallest and blackest of the puppies, my parents said I could keep him. I called him Midnight, because he was so black, and he stayed with his mama, who stayed with us, to live out his life.
I’m not sure what happened at the end of the lives of those two loving pups. As a sensitive child, I was sheltered from some things, but I do remember Penny being buried in the back yard of the house where I spent my first five years. Midnight is just a fond remembrance.
Tears flow as I realize the loss of so many who’ve become loving memories. But, it isn’t just the friends… my parents, too, are gone and so many pieces have no place and so many stories have no happy ending. How quickly death seems to follow new life! I pray that you will never have to feel this type of human loss at an “early” age and anything before sixty is early in my estimation! There is not just the physical loss, but the loss that makes life feel incomplete with all the unanswered questions we had for those we love. So, ask them while you can, Dear Ones. Only Eternity is forever.