By Wendy Hodge
One of my first memories is of being outside, with the summer sun making shimmering waves in the air and the light filtering through the leaves on the willow tree in our backyard. I must have been about five years old because I can see my little girl sneakers. They were red and much loved – a gift from my grandmother on my fifth birthday. I’ve been told I slept in them for the first night or two of my fifth year on earth, at which point my mother made the executive decision that dirty shoes were not meant for clean sheets no matter how perfect the shoes may be.
That summer day in my memory, my red shoes were already faded and worn. They’d carried me on many adventures by that point. On that day, I was lying in my spot under the willow tree in the center of our backyard. It was the perfect spot to watch the clouds and to speak aloud the stories I’d created in my head…. stories of secret underwater civilizations and courageous princess warriors and horses. Horses were a constant theme.
I don’t remember what tale I was spinning that day, but I do remember being interrupted by the sound of a dog barking. A dog! No one in our neighborhood had a dog that I knew of. And dogs were just as perfect as red sneakers. I jumped up and ran to the fence that separated our yard from our neighbors’ yard, and there it was… a wiener dog! A wiener PUPPY, actually. Is there anything cuter than a baby hot dog with ears and feet?
I absolutely HAD to hug that puppy. My little girl heart would explode if I couldn’t get my hands on that furry body. The problem was the next door neighbor was a monster. I was convinced of it.
He was at least 100 years old and lived all alone in that creaky old house. The lights were never on, day or night, and on the few occasions any of the kids on our block had actually seen him, he was reported to have had a wiry gray beard down to his feet and talons like a wicked old bird.
So I stood at the fence and watched the puppy playing. And on that day began a decade-long yearning – I flat out coveted that dog. During those hours spent spying on my neighbor’s yard, I spun tales of how I would leap over the fence in my Wonder Woman boots (Wonder Woman was an even more constant theme than horses) and rescue the dog, who I had named Steven, from the horrible life he must have been enduring living with someone so clearly unfit to be a doggy daddy.
I never did see the monster with the beard and talons. Instead, the summer I turned ten, I finally met our neighbor, Dr. Barton. He had no beard, and his hands were perfectly normal – the neighborhood kids had some explaining to do! It turns out, Dr. Barton was a professor at Auburn University. He worked at the vet school and was a dog trainer. He had rescued Steven, whose real name was Bones, when someone abandoned him as a puppy. Bones could not have been in better hands with Dr. Barton who was soft-spoken and kind.
Bones was in the right backyard all along.
All these decades later, I have my own sweet fur babies… Darryl and Elvis. They were both rescues from the humane society and have led a pampered and cushy life with me for almost four years. These days, though, my life is transitional. I’ve lived in hotels where housing a dog is difficult at best, and I currently live with my parents who need daily care. They are less than tolerant of pets in their house, so I used social media to find a better place for Darryl and Elvis to stay, at least for the time being.
A good friend of mine from our high school days put me in touch with his mom, who was eager to have the company of my doggies.
Brooka Stokes – sweetest lady on this earth! She has opened her home and her heart to them and to me. Her house is comfortable and pet-friendly, and her back yard is canine heaven – a double lot, fenced in, with dogs in the neighbors’ yard. I visit them often and even recently stayed in the house with them a couple of nights while Ms. Brooka was out of town.
On a cold Wednesday morning during my stay there, after two nights of sleeping with Darryl and Elvis curled up next to me just like the good ole days, I was dressed and ready for work…. watching them run in the back yard, diving in piles of leaves and wrestling with each other…. and finding it next to impossible to make myself walk out the door and leave them. I miss their tail-wagging, face-licking, old-man-snoring little bodies all the time. Every day. I want my babies back.
But they are, at least for now, in the right backyard.
And isn’t that the hardest lesson to learn? That no matter how much we love someone, no matter how much we want them with us, no matter how empty we may feel without them, they may in fact be in the right backyard without us. Friends move away. Children grow up. Parents pass on. And people we love don’t always love us in return. The best we can hope for is the strength to let them go, whether for a season or forever, and the gift of watching them grow and flourish in someone else’s backyard.
Wendy Hodge is an Opelika native, an empty nester and lover of all things Opelika. She previously had a column titled A Word or Ten, which was featured in the Tennessee Star Journal and is currently awaiting release of her first novel with Harper Collins Publishing Company.