Happy face in the rear view Kodak EasyShare Z730 2008
This photo is a very happy memory. At the height of my road-trip days I usually brought my dog, Gracie, along. She loved to go! I saw this happy look on her face in my rear-view mirror all the time when we’d take to the road.
When we made this trip, in October of 2008, we’d lost Gracie’s constant companion, Sugar, just a couple months before. Gracie was deeply bonded to Sugar and really came apart after Sugar died.
Taking to the road always raised both Gracie’s and my spirits. We went on a lot of road trips in those days. This was the year I surveyed the Michigan Road from end to end over several spring and summer Saturdays. I had wrapped up that trip at the end of August, shortly after Sugar died.
Gracie and I were well overdue for a road trip when we made our next, and last, trip of the year on that October Saturday. We explored Indiana State Road 42, which begins just southwest of Indianapolis in Mooresville, and leads to Terre Haute. It parallels I-70 and US 40, but as a narrow two-lane highway with lots of 90-degree turns, it’s a far less convenient route. But Gracie and I had a wonderful day together, out exploring. We were both in our happy place.
While Gracie was still alive, she rode along on my solo road trips. When I had a friend along I generally left Gracie at home as her shedding would fill the cabin with tufts of her fur and it wasn’t an experience I wanted to force on my friends. But when my friend Michael and I made this particular road trip down US 50 in Illinois, I brought Gracie anyway because otherwise I would have needed to leave her home alone far too long.
Gracie loved to go out on the road! She’d leap into the wayback of my little wagon and off we’d go. But a long road trip always wore her out. Here, we were on our way back home at the end of the trip. Michael was driving, so I turned in my seat to photograph my dog. That’s definitely her tired face.
It was on Thanksgiving three years ago that I lost Gracie. She was very old, at least 17, and had been in declining health for a few years. She was a difficult dog, but we were deeply bonded. I grieved her passing for a long time.
I took this photograph in 2009 while testing a Canonet QL17 G-III I had just gotten. I didn’t know it leaked light. I was disappointed at the time that the leak marred this photo, because I like this composition. Today, it feels like looking through the mists of time upon my old friend.
Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime. This is the story of Sugar, a wonderful dog I had who died eight years ago.
My stepson was over at a friend’s house twelve years ago, running around in the back yard, when the Rottweiler next door sailed over the fence and bit him on the leg. The puncture wounds were not serious and they healed without complication. The dog’s owner was mortified, apologized all over himself, and swore he’d keep his dog from clearing the fence again. We decided to let bygones be bygones.
Several months later my wife called me at work. “Jim, the people with the Rottweiler still feel so bad that they’re giving us one of their new pups! Isn’t that exciting?”
If the fact that they wanted to take the offending dog’s progeny did not prove that my wife and stepson were completely mad, the fact that we had a five-month-old baby most certainly did. But as usual I buckled and we got the dog.
Worried about the Rottweiler reputation, overblown if you ask me, my stepson named her Sugar so all would know she was a sweet dog. But when my brother inexplicably nicknamed her Buckethead, it tickled me so improbably that it stuck.
My little Buckethead was on the small side, having been the runt of the litter, but she was smart, gentle, and obedient. My baby boy used to crawl up to her and yank on her ears, and all she would do was look up at me with long-suffering eyes until I intervened. She favored my wife and followed her around the house, which provided good opportunity for my wife to play “head bitch” (her words, not mine!) so Sugar would know the pecking order and her place in it. Sugar did challenge for top spot a couple times as Rottweilers will do, but my wife put her back in her place swiftly and efficiently. Her care gave Sugar lifelong contentment and happiness. When my wife picked up a stray abused dog, to our surprise Sugar took her under her wing and provided, in her doggie way, much of the same kind of esteem-building structure for Gracie that my wife had provided for Sugar. While Gracie will always have issues, I think Sugar’s companionship gave Gracie a lot of security and kept her from being a basket case.
Our dogs’ job was to secure the back yard against the great squirrel menace, and they poured all of their energy into it. When they spied one in the yard, they tore after it relentlessly, to the unending detriment of the patio enclosure’s screens. One day, a squirrel trying to escape Sugar scaled the maple tree, and then Sugar made a flying leap and scrambled right up into the tree’s crotch – which was six feet off the ground. She momentarily forgot about the squirrel as she looked down at the ground, her body’s tension showing her puzzlement. We had to coax her to jump down from the tree. After she did that, she realized she could go up there anytime she wanted to, and so she did. We used to entice her to do it to amuse our guests.
As she aged, arthritis crept into her joints, ending her tree-jumping days. And then my wife and I divorced. The dogs were hers, and she kept them; I didn’t see either of them for a couple years. But nine months ago she asked me to take them, and what a blessing it has been to have them back! I enjoyed the quiet of living alone, but missed having someone happy to see me when I came home. The dogs have been excellent company, and as the new top dog in their lives I’ve grown much closer to them. Sugar accepted the change with the characteristic good humor and serenity for which I always admired her, and set about making new routines in her new home. (I wish Gracie had transitioned so easily!) But she was almost 11 years old, quite elderly for a Rottweiler, and her arthritis had grown worse and she lacked her old energy. Some days I couldn’t get her interested in a squirrel in the back yard, and even when she did chase one, Gracie would sail off the edge of the deck after it while Sugar went down the steps gingerly before trotting out. I could see that I would have only so much more time with her.
Lately she has had some days where she lay around subdued, getting up only to eat and answer nature’s call. Then yesterday her legs gave out underneath her twice while I got ready for work. The second time, she just crumpled into the grass and I had to carry her inside. The vet diagnosed autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA). He said that the treatment for it would be very hard on her, especially at her age, and he estimated only a 30 percent chance of success. He said that without treatment, she’d die within a week – and it would be a horrible death by suffocation as her body destroyed her red blood cells. Yesterday was the end of the line for my poor Buckethead. I scratched her ears and stroked her head until she was gone. Everybody who’s ever had a dog through its old age has a story to tell, and this one’s mine. Gracie and I are both grieving in our way, but we will get along without old Buckethead. I’m telling people that to help Gracie cope with her big loss I’ll be giving her extra attention and making some new routines – tonight, I put her on the leash and took her for a run while I rode my bike, something we’ve never done before. But the truth is these new routines will help me grieve and move on, too. Goodbye, Buckethead! You were an excellent dog.
This is my favorite photo of my dear, departed Gracie. I had bathed her earlier in the day, leaving her fur good and fluffy. In black and white, her orange fur came out silvery.
Shiny dog • Pentax ME • 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax • Kodak T-Max 400 • June, 2012