My childhood buddy was a golden retriever named Woodland’s Painted Morning. Looking back, we didn’t have much time together but when you are 7 years old summer lasts forever and your dog is pretty much the center of the universe. At least mine was.
My seventh summer I got up at the dawn to go out with my dad and help Paint learn the ins and outs of retrieving, whether that was wrapping my arms around him to keep him from running back to dad with ‘the bird’ until he was asked to or helping him ‘find the bird’. Lessons lasted from a few minutes to 15 or so, because he was still really a baby. But the rest of the day was ours. Running in fields, swimming repeatedly in the lake and racing through the cabin causing mischief was how we bonded as only a child and a puppy can. Every day was an adventure in love, trust and general naughtiness (he was a puppy and so was I in a manner of speaking.)
I did take my responsibility to Paint seriously though. I brushed him and fed him. He always had fresh water available. I didn’t let him chase chipmunks, because he already was a good retriever and demonstrated his baby skills by bringing home damp baby bunnies, rumpled and unharmed. It was common to have him jump onto my parent’s bed, wiggling his butt and crying while the mouse’s tail (attached to a very alive and agitated mouse) drooped out his mouth. Then my mom and dad would yell for me to come and get ‘my’ dog and save the rodent, which they knew was never in danger.
As he learned things so did I. Dad and I took him to a few field trials he goofed through in his 6 month body and we also danced him around the ring a bit since his father was an international duel champion. He proved to be not pretty enough for those called upon to make such judgments. To my young eyes Paint was the most beautiful dog at the show but we did not come home with a great big silver cup, not that it mattered. He was my confidant, my best friend, my consoler and my blanket when I was cold. He kissed away my tears. He made me laugh. He made me special in his world. He was my world.
And then he was gone.
Paint ate a toad. He unknowingly poisoned himself through inexperience and by the time my parents could see he was ill it was too late to do anything to help. My parents were merciful. My young heart was crushed. And summer was over.
It was 10 years after Paint left before I choose another and I have had many since in the 51 years that followed. I suspect I will be blessed with more. They were all so wonderful, so smart or naughty or clownish. They were all big, all beautiful and I loved them so. Some made me crazy with their stubbornness. Some tried my patience until I lost it. Some made me scream. Some exhausted me. Others exhilarated me. And one, the Queen of my Heart, had no rival and never will.
I held them all with a love deep and strong and still do, but I guess what they say is true – you never forget your first love. Never the very first.