The first day of school! All the distant memories associated with sending my kids off to school for twelve years came back to me when two of my employees told me that they were taking the day off so they could see their children off on their first day. I thought it was great that they could take the time to do this, because it was something that back in the 1980’s, I wasn’t able to do. I did however have my best friend Willie, who every school day from elementary through middle school escorted my twin sons Nick and Neil to the bus stop. And at the end of the day, regular as clock work, he would patiently wait by the side of the road so he could walk them safely home. Even though Willie never had any children of his own, he obviously considered Nick, Neil and Megan his kids and loved them unconditionally. He was one of the best friends I will ever have and a credit to his species. Willie was a Golden Retriever.
I know that it sounds a little irresponsible to put a dog in charge of your kids, but this was back in 1980’s in Bonita Springs, when it wasn’t that unusual to see a dog running around, and Willie was smarter than most of the humans around him and way more dependable. After the kids got on the bus, Willie would trot off to work. His day consisted mostly of eating an occasional gopher turtle, crunching cans up into little pieces, checking in on our neighbors and sleeping in the dirt.
When I would come home after work, Willie would run up to the door of the truck and sit looking up at me with those big brown eyes, waiting patiently to report in on his activities that day and to get some well-deserved hugs. Through all the turmoil surrounding that time in my life, he was always there, and we went along pretty much without a hitch until the boys got older and started walking to Bonita Middle School.
The boys were at the age when they were a little embarrassed to have a parent or guardian, especially a four legged, slobbering, hairy one, walk them to the door of the school. So every morning they would try to fool Willie into neglecting his job. But Willie saw through every plan, every bowl of yummy treats, and would end up catching the boys before they got to Old 41, about three blocks away. This was a dog that I swear, without formal training, could understand English. So when the boys were yelling “Go home Willie!!” He knew exactly what they meant. But he also knew what his job was… to take care of his kids. Once they were safely inside, he would hang around for a bit to make sure they stayed there, and then run home, carefully looking both ways when he crossed Old 41.
But the older the boys got the more they would try to get Willie to stay home. Apparently, this caused Willie to react like most parents would. He got a little needy and embarrassingly protective. Soon it wasn’t enough to just drop them off at school. He figured out their class schedule and began stalking them! The boys would be sitting in a classroom and suddenly one of their classmates would yell out “Hey, there’s Willie!” and the entire class would start laughing. Nick and Neil would be mortified because there he would be, sitting there at the window watching his kids carefully. It was endearing and a little creepy at the same time. The teachers and principal never complained or called the dogcatcher. Like everyone else, they had gotten to know, love and trust Willie.
Fortunately for everyone concerned, the boys soon started high school and since Cypress Lake High School was a little out of his range, Willie’s paternal attention was redirected to my daughter Megan. He watched over her for the next several years, as he and I both grew older and grayer. Then, way too soon, Willie passed away.
Dogs have been watching over humans for thousands of years, but no matter how dear they are to us, they are only here for a brief time. For a while, I felt it wasn’t fair that fate had taken him from us and left us on our own. But then Molly, Murphy, Winston and now our lovable dear friend Yogi picked up where Willie left off, somehow finding their way into our lives to watch over us. I think George Carlin was right… in many ways “Life is a series of dogs!” If it is, then life is truly good.