MOONLIGHT

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By Sean Dietrich

The middle of the night. The rural Alabama countryside was lit by the glow of the full moon.

In most major U.S. cities, tens of thousands were holding protests and demonstrations. In Washington D.C. throngs lined the streets. In New York and Los Angeles, it was standing room only. There are a lot of world events happening right now.

The June moon was completely full. Farmers used to call this the Rose Moon. Ancient Germans called it the Mead Moon, or the Honey Moon. But long before Germans, farmers, or honeymooners, the Algoquian tribes that wandered North America called this the Strawberry Moon.

The Strawberry Moon was believed to be mysterious and powerful by Native Americans and Farmers. Also, by sorta-columnists.

Michael’s father, a third-generation Alabamian farmer, always told him that a Strawberry Moon was a magic thing.

So before bedtime, Michael went to look at the moon. And he wasn’t alone, either. People were looking at the moon in Malaga, Spain; Genoa, Italy; Omsk, Russia; Nice, France; Des Moines, Iowa; and Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. Folks all over the globe were simultaneously watching the same heaven. And for a brief pause in time, there was no such thing as a coronavirus, or riots.

Before bed, Michael put his 2-year-old pregnant cocker spaniel into the barn. Her name is Bama. She usually sleeps in their den, but not tonight. Because Michael had a feeling that tonight would be The Night.

Michael’s oldest daughter, Sarah (8 years old), went with him to make sure her dad did everything right. She was asking a million pregnancy questions:

“What’s gonna happen if Bama has her puppies tonight?” and “Will it hurt?” and “Don’t you think Bama should sleep in my room, just in case?”

They helped Bama into her bed under the barn’s workbench. Michael placed a walkie-talkie baby monitor beside the dog. He let Sarah keep the receiver unit in her bedroom.

That night, the family settled for their naps beneath the light of the pink moon, and it was the same kind of restless sleep you experience on Christmas Eve, or the night before your own wedding. Pure excitement.

At 11:48 p.m., Sarah came bursting into her mom and dad’s bedroom, waving a baby monitor and shouting, “IT’S HAPPENING!”

In a few moments, all three of Michael’s daughters had dragged him off the bed, down the stairs and into the barn.

Bama was panting and whimpering, lying on her side. Her mouth was open, her tongue out. She looked at her humans with that same helpless look all mamas wear. It’s a look that seems to say, “This sucks.”

The family gathered around the dog and talked to her quietly. “It’s gonna be okay, Bama,” said the girls.

Bama’s water broke. This was followed by biological events that are too messy to talk about. This is a family column so I won’t describe these events by using graphic medical words like “discharge,” or “amniotic fluid” or “slimy membrane sac.” That just wouldn’t be polite.

All I can say is that you don’t want this stuff happening in your dining room.

“It hurt to watch,” said Michael. “Honestly, it stressed me out.”

The first puppy made its appearance. The family cheered. The girls giggled with elation. Bama’s panting stopped for a moment when she grunted and pushed. Behind the dog appeared the Miracle of Yuck.

“I was gagging,” said Michael. “I won’t even tell you what Bama did with the placenta.”

Next, animal intuition kicked in. Bama cleaned her first puppy to stimulate its breathing and to start blood flow. To watch a mother dog care for a newborn, purely out of her instinct, is nothing short of reverent.

Bama had four puppies. A fifth was on its way, but something was clearly wrong. The last puppy emerged, but wasn’t moving.

“It laid there,” said Michael. “And we all just looked at each other, I think we knew.”

The girls started to cry. Michael was doing his best to cheer them up, but it’s not easy explaining to children that no matter how pretty the moon outside might be, this world is not fair. It is a hard fact you get used to when you’re an adult, but it never gets easier.

Bama kept licking her motionless newborn until she finally gave up. She collapsed from exhaustion and her breathing slowed. Her other puppies gathered around her belly to feed. The fifth puppy was starting to get cold.

Young Sarah lifted the fifth puppy into her hands. The little girl’s chest was heaving. “Can we name it?”

“Of course,” said Michael.

Michael’s daughters crowded the cold animal. One of the girls began rubbing the puppy’s ribcage with her hands, whispering to it. Another began pressing her cheeks on the dog’s wet fur.

“It’s no use,” said Michael. Then he searched for the right words even though none were coming. Still, a father’s job is to try. So he did. He was going to say something about grief when he was interrupted by the sounds of girlish shouting and squealing.

“LOOK! DAD!” shouted Sarah. “HE’S ALIVE!”

The little animal began to squirm in their hands, and soon the animal was feeding from its mother like a professional. To say the family was overjoyed would be a lie. They were moonstruck.

“It was the best night my family’s had all year,” said Michael. “And with the way our world is lately, we’ve needed a little cheering up.”

You can say that again.

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