The Golden Retriever puppy was exactly ten weeks old. All but two of her litter mates had been sold. She’d been working on digging a hole so she could get under the fence surrounding her enclosure. This day, just before dawn, she finally managed to wiggle under the fence and escape.
She struck out across the wheat field surrounding the farm where she was born. Her little legs didn’t allow her to cover long distances, but she made steady progress. After a while she reached a small stream. She took a big drink, then plunged into the cool water, swimming across. She didn’t realize it, but the swim removed most of the dirt from her legs and body. She emerged from the water, shook herself off, then rolled in the soft wheat to dry her back.
She continued on her way. There was a community of houses at the outskirts of the small town. Somehow she knew that her future lay in that cluster of tiny homes.
An eight year old boy, Ned Waldren, lived in one of those small houses. Ned’s house was painted pale green. It was a two story colonial on a narrow lot. A flight of about six cement steps led to a small front porch at the front door of the house.
Ned was sitting on those steps, crying. These were not the tears of a minor upset. These were gut wrenching tears of deep agony. Just yesterday Ned learned that his father, who was also Ned’s best pal, had been killed in a car wreck. Ned was lonely and desperate. He tried to comfort his mother, but she was inconsolable in her own grief. Having no other siblings, only his grandmother, Ned felt incredibly lost.
As a breed, Golden Retriever’s are extremely sensitive to human need. The little puppy making her way across the field toward town was somehow tuned into Ned’s grief.
She crossed the small back yard at Ned’s house, walked past the swing and came round the corner of the house. Spotting Ned crying on the steps, the puppy knew her duty. She climbed the steps and began to lick the tears away from the boy’s astonished face!
“A puppy!” Ned exclaimed. He threw his arms around his new friend and hugged the dog to his chest. Within seconds, an unshakable bond of friendship was born between boy and dog.
Ned’s tears quickly vanished as he stroked the soft fur of his new friend. “Where did you come from, little guy?”
Puppy couldn’t answer, so she just snuggled into Ned’s lap, continuing to sniff and lick him. The pair remained there on the step, transfixed in companionship and love.
Inside the house a red eyed, very upset young woman, Peggy Waldren, was sitting on the couch staring into space. I still can’t believe my Peter is gone. We were only married ten years. It’s just not fair. I’ve loved Peter ever since we met in that accounting class in college. He was a successful CPA and his practice was just taking off. Not only am I devastated, but our Ned is totally unhinged. Ned? Where is Ned? I better check on him.
Peggy dragged her neat compact body off the couch and went in search of her son. She found him on the porch, hugging a puppy!
“A puppy! Ned, where did that puppy come from?”
Golden Retriever’s are not only sensitive, they are smart. Somehow puppy knew she had to gain favor with this lady. She squirmed out of Ned’s arms and planted herself right at Peggy’s feet. Very few people, when staring at a Golden Retriever puppy, can resist picking it up. Peggy picked up the dog. This is a definite no no, especially if you don’t want to keep a puppy. Still clutching the dog, she found a seat on the tiny front porch. Soon puppy was licking her tear stained cheeks and bringing the first smile to Peggy’s face since she’d heard the terrible news.
“Can we keep her Mom?” The anxiety in her son’s voice was plainly evident to his mother. Maybe a puppy is just the right medicine for Ned at this pivotal moment in his life.
Peggy thought a minute. “Ned, this is no stray dog. This is a thoroughbred Golden Retriever. She must have escaped from the kennel on the other side of the wheat field behind our house.”
“But if she ran away there’s no reason we can’t keep her, is there? I promise I’ll train her and take her on walks, and everything.”
“Keeping a dog this valuable isn’t right, Ned. Dogs like this cost a lot of money. This is not the time for us to be spending money for a dog. Now, put the dog in the car, Ned. I’ll get my keys and we’ll drive over to the farm where the dog must have come from.”
“No buts, Ned. We have to do what is right. Your father would never have allowed us to keep a stray thoroughbred, and I won’t either.”
A devastated Ned Waldren complied with his mother’s directions. Soon Ned, Peggy and puppy were in the car. It was easy to find the breeder’s location. Peggy pulled into the drive and up to where a series of kennels were located.
A plump woman came out of the back door approaching the car. “Can I help you?”
Peggy rolled down her window. “I’m Peggy Waldren. We live on the street behind the wheat field. Maybe we can help you. Are you missing a puppy?”
The lady peered into the car, spotted the puppy and said, “Sure looks like one of ours. Let me check.”
She walked over to an enclosure, finding the hole under the fence and realizing for the first time she was missing a dog. Ned held his breath.
The farm lady returned. “Yep, there’s a hole under the fence. She must of got out early this morning. I really appreciate your bringing her back.”
Ned continued to clutch the dog to his chest. Peggy asked the magic question, “How much is the dog, if we want to purchase her?”
The lady looked at Ned and the puppy. She said, “Looks like your boy is already attached to her.”
“Peggy agreed. Then she said. “Ned’s father just died….he was killed in a car accident just yesterday. I think the puppy would be very good medicine for us right now. I just wish we could afford her.”
The lady sighed. “I heard about the accident. That was your husband? I am so sorry for your loss…….. Most people would never have brought her back. Would you think it fair if I just charged half price?”
“How much would half price be?”
The lady named a figure. Ned held his breath. Peggy was very unsure about her finances but she was very sure puppy would really help Ned. “That sounds more than fair. We’ll take her.”
Ned’s eye’s glowed with ecstatic joy!
The farm lady said, “Come into the office, I’ll fill out the papers. The dog’s a real thoroughbred and she’s already been chipped.”
“Chipped?” Peggy asked.
“We insert a computer chip under her skin. If anyone steals the dog, the vet will check the chip and make sure the dog has the proper owner.”
When they returned to the car Ned exclaimed, “Oh Mom, thanks so much!”
Peggy, feeling the excitement from her son, soon began feeling excited too. “We have to think of a name for her.”
“Yeah. I can’t think of anything right now.”
“Tell you what Ned, let’s wait and see what she does. Maybe that’ll give us a hint about what to name her.”
“Great idea, Mom.”
Peggy continued. “I’m going to drop you and puppy off at Gram’s. Then I’m going to the Pet Store and buy a collar, a dog bed and some dog toys.”
Peggy’s mother, Margo Mitchell, was a tall, stately woman who kept her brown hair piled up in a bun. She was a widow, a teacher in her early fifties and still quite attractive. Peggy was her only child. Her home, the one Peggy grew up in, was only a few blocks from Peggy and Ned’s house in the small town of Hamilton, Illinois. Hamilton is located in west central Illinois, close to the Mississippi River.
Margo was thrilled with the puppy. When Ned ran across the yard with the dog she whispered to her daughter, “Buying that dog right this minute is the smartest thing you’ve ever done. I’m certain it will help Ned get through this.”
“The only thing I’m certain of is, we can’t afford it even at the half off price the nice lady gave us. But it surely is the right thing to do. Please watch them, Mom. I’m off to the Pet Store.”
Later than night, Peggy settled puppy down in her new bed in Ned’s room.
At the first whimper, Ned was out of bed, cuddling the new puppy into his arms and placing her in his bed. When Peggy went in to check on them a few hours later she found puppy snuggled up against her son, sound asleep. I never should have bought that dog bed. She’s never going to sleep in it.
Peggy gathered up puppy, took her outside to relieve herself, then placed her carefully back on the bed next to Ned.
At least Ned has someone to snuggle with. Now I have to face my empty bed. Oh Peter, how am I ever going to get past this? I miss you so much!
The next morning Peggy told Ned how she found him snuggled with the puppy the night before.
Ned replied, “Mom, that’s it! We can name her Snuggle. And we can call her Snug for short!”
The memorial service for Peter Waldren was held the following day in their church. Attendance turned out to be far greater than Peggy had expected. After the service, there was a reception in the social hall of the church. Ned stood right beside Peggy and his Grandmother as they were consoled by all of their friends.
It was a shock to some, but Peggy chose to wear white. She told everyone, “This is a celebration of Peter’s life. A life far too short, but a great life. His monument is the joy and love he left behind.”
Peggy thought, I sound really brave. Unfortunately, my stomach doesn’t feel any bravery at all.
Slowly the social hall emptied. Jeb Richards, Peter’s close friend from his accounting firm, was one of the last to leave. He asked Peggy to call him when things calmed down so they could discuss Peter’s finances.
As soon as everyone left, Peggy hustled her Mom and Ned into the car. They drove north to Navoo State Park. The beautiful park is right on the Mississippi River near the town of Navoo, Illinois. Navoo was named by the Mormons who populated the area in the 1800’s.
Peggy parked the car and the three, plus Snug on her new leash, walked to a high rock outcropping overlooking the Mississippi River.
Peggy clutched the cardboard box containing Peter’s ashes in her hands. It was a beautiful sunny day, with a strong wind blowing along the river towards the south. Puffy clouds dotted the sky. Some of them were dark gray, hinting of an impending storm; most were snowy white.
They watched Old Man River, amazed as always by its constant motion. Ned wondered when the part of the water they were watching now would find its way to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. For some reason the river gave everyone a sense of permanence and peace.
The three stood there all alone in the silence feeling the wind caress their faces. Finally, Peggy opened the box. She gave some of Peter’s ashes to Mother and some to Ned.
Peggy announced, “Peter felt very special about this place. We used to come here often during our courting days. In fact, we were right at this spot when he proposed to me.
“I’m certain Peter would be happy if we cast his ashes here.” She turned to their son. “Do you feel that lovely breeze? I want you to know you’ll always be able to feel the presence of your father, whenever you feel a breeze like this on your face. The breeze will always be with you, reminding you forever of how much your daddy still loves you.”
Peggy paused a minute, tears filling her eyes. Then she held out a closed hand, and began to recite a poem she had written the night before:
Go Softly, Loved One
I stand here in this lovely place,
I see God’s beauty; I feel God’s grace,
In my hand I hold thy earthly dust,
I wait and ponder, till I must
Release your ashes to the sky.
Not right now…… but by and by.
I first must thank you, faithful one,
For keeping trust and making fun.
For love that in between us sprung,
So long ago, when we were young.
The gentle breeze now beckons me….
I open my hand to set you free!
Now you’re part of wind and land,
Your ashes caress my trembling hand,
Now you’ll be forever near,
If I laugh, or shed a tear.
Go softly, loved one, into space,
My heart will always feel thy grace.
They stood there, each locked in their own thoughts for several minutes. When Peggy opened her hand, she hadn’t the heart to throw Peter’s ashes into the breeze. She just held her hand open. Ned and Margo followed her example. It wasn’t long before the wind gently swept across their fingers and carried Peter’s ashes into the sky. Go with God, Peter my darling.
Margo broke the silence. “Peggy, your poem is lovely. Thank you.”
Ned hugged his mom. “Are we gonna be all right?”
“I hope so, Ned. If we pull together as a team, I’m sure we will. We have to be. Otherwise, we’ll be letting Daddy down. We surely don’t want to do that.”
“I’ll say we don’t.”
As they returned to the car, Margo announced, “You know, for the past few days you’ve done all the work that needed to be done. You never balked, never faltered. But now begins the hard part.”
“I know you’re right, Mom. Thank goodness I have you and Ned to help me through it.”
Slowly the car made its way home. As they drove, the clouds built into a spring storm. They dropped Margo off at her house. When they approached their own driveway, the rain began in earnest. Instead of pulling into the garage, Peggy stopped the car in the driveway, letting the rain pummel the car.
“Don’t you just love the sound of rain on a car roof?” she asked. “Let’s wait here a few minutes and enjoy it.”
“It seems as if God is crying for daddy too,” whispered Ned.
“Maybe you’re right, Ned. The rain must be God’s tears for daddy. I wonder if that’s why it always seems to rain at a funeral.”
“Mom, I’m really glad we didn’t bury daddy. Tossing him into the wind is much better. Maybe he’s all mixed up with some of those rain drops.”
“I’m sure he is Ned. I’m sure he is.”