Love and obligation are not always easily distinguished one from another, especially when it comes to family. Like the colors of a fading rainbow, it is often hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. Sam Brown’s children were forever doing things for him, and he often wondered why.
“Because they love you,” the memory of his wife whispered soft and sweet as if she were still there, beside him on the front porch swing, watching their children ride away. Nowadays, he was alone watching their tail lights fade on Sunday evenings. A Sunday never passed that at least one of his sons or his daughter didn’t stop by and pay him a visit.
They were taking turns; he had figured that much out, though sometimes more than one showed up and once again the house was filled with the smell of Sunday dinner, the porch with people and the yard with children. Those days were almost like those Sam remembered, days which had been his happiest.
“Because they love you.” The whispered memory made him wonder, as he often sat in his aloneness, questioning why his children would love him. He had been too hard on them sometimes, he thought, when he remembered back, and said a truck load of things he wished more than once he could unsay. Sometimes, he was sure the only love his children ever got was from their mother. She taught them how to love, and to love him. Hard times and a hard life made loving him not such an easy thing to do. Somehow, she managed though; he missed her more than anything.
His children were there, by their mother’s side through her sickness, and beside him too, when he said his last goodbye to her; the only woman he would ever love. When he cried the only tears he would ever cry they wrapped their arms around him and whispered that they loved him. He whispered it back, they held him even tighter. That he loved them, was something he was never been able to say until that day. They knew it though, that he loved them.
His oldest, helped Sam keep his yard cut when it got hot in summer, too hot for him to be out pushing a mower. The rest of the year, Sam saw to his own yard work; trimming the azaleas that his wife planted and seeing to her rose bushes and hydrangeas like she taught him during those last few years. His daughter went with him to the doctor for his check-ups. She was good at that sort of thing, like her mother. She knew the questions to ask and the things to remember. She wrote them down: things to remember, which pills to take and when, and other things too, things which she promised not to tell her brothers. There was no need in getting everybody worried.
For his birthday, his children got together and bought him a new television which he pretended to be excited about. He always made sure it was playing when they called or came over. Most of the time though, the screen stayed black. There was nothing worth watching on television anymore, just one big commercial. So, unless the Braves were playing, or a hurricane was brewing off the coast, Sam left it turned off when he was home alone.
The sound of silence become his company as he lived out his life in the only house he would ever call home. With the sound of his bathroom faucet dripping its steady rhythmic drip, like the ticking of the clock that hung on the kitchen wall, sounds of passing cars or kids on bicycles and the lonesome wail of trains deep in the night, Sam went about his days doing, “old men things.” The birds, which gathered outside his open window, and sung him morning songs were always hungry and needed feeding.
There was always something to do, something to keep him busy, too busy for a dog. That was what he told his children every time they offered to get him one.The last thing he needed was a dog. He was wrong though, and glad he finally gave in and agreed to at least take a look.
Christmas, turned out to be a good idea after all. His grandson named the rescue dog that he helped his grandpa pick out at the shelter. With it being Christmas day when they got him, it was the perfect name. It made for good conversation when Sam and Christmas met new people on their comings and goings, puttering here and there in the old truck that traveled very little since Sam’s wife got sick, only to doctors’ offices and then to the hospital.
“An old dog,” was Sam’s answer when folks asked what kind of dog Christmas was and children wanted to pet him. They would always laugh and agree, still petting Christmas, which he didn’t mind. Kindness was something the old dog hadn’t seen much of until Sam rescued him that Christmas day.
Sam and Christmas went everywhere together, the cemetery, the hardware, even to the church picnic. This would have surprised Sam’s wife and made her happy. It wasn’t until near the end, that she got him going to church.
The lop eared old man and his lop eared old dog were a sight in that truck as they pulled up at the burger stand for lunch almost every afternoon, always ordering the same thing: a double burger which they shared and large fries for Christmas. Christmas loved french fries more than the burger which didn’t hurt Sam’s feelings; he wasn’t supposed to eat fries anyway. Sam always ordered extra ketchup, too. Christmas liked ketchup.
When all of their goings and comings were done, the two would end up on the front porch watching another day come to a close. Sam sometimes wondered how many more he would have and always asked God to let Christmas have more. The thought of losing the dog, that he hadn’t even wanted, not in the beginning, made his heart sad.
“Old dogs, that’s what we are,” Sam would tell the sad-eyed hound that was as hard of hearing as him, but still seemed to understand what the old man was saying.
“He’s old just like you,” his grandson chirped out that Christmas morning at the animal shelter when he spied the worn out old dog laying asleep in his kennel. “And he sleeps a lot too.”
His grandson was right, and Sam told him so, as he too studied the sleeping dog.
“He’s old,” the man running the shelter told Sam trying to persuade him to get one of the puppies barking in their cages behind him. Sam, mind already made up, pretended to give the man’s suggestion some thought.
“He’s weak too, just sleeps all day.”
Sam nodded, mind still made up.
“He might not even make it home,” the man said shaking his head when Sam insisted.
“I might not either,” Sam answered back with a smile of sadness which the man understood. “And that’s what makes him the dog for me.”
This is a work of fiction dedicated to old dogs. Edward Reed 2019