within a scoundrel's memory
On our last snowy walk, we talked about all the usual stuff. We discussed the failing health of Zac's jeep, the crazy rantings of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the likelihood of more snow. We talked about our upcoming trip to Israel and how much time we could spend with our friends there, Hananya and Devorah. Just as we were turning the talk to dinner, and whether Dave preferred beef stroganoff or chicken tetrazzini (an outcome I could have placed money on--beef wins with him every time), Dave happened to glance over his shoulder and spot a bit of happy, rascaly blackness tracking our snowy footprints.
That scoundrel had gotten loose.
"Larry!" Dave yelled.
The tracker lifted his nose from our bootprints, shot his triangular ears skyward, and froze. I could see his thoughts just as clearly as if they had drifted from his little pea-brain and formed themselves in a cartoon display above our heads. "I am Larry, tracker of my lost people ... They'll see me coming and rejoice that I've come to rescue them. He'll pat my head and talk about my tracking virtues. She'll shower me with grateful kisses ... Ruh, roh. Dave looks irritated. I will now race back home and pretend this never happened."
He turned to do just that, but Dave called again. His be-at-my-ankles-before-I-count-to-three tone cut through Larry's plan and brought him running. "Please pet me," Larry begged with those brown eyes. And Dave did.
"You're supposed to be home," Dave said. It got me thinking. How had Larry gotten out of the house? Did he cajole one of the kids into opening the door? Or did he have secret opposable thumbs we knew nothing about--and had he performed the job himself?
Though the image of two people and a big black dog walking along a snowy, wood-lined trail has instant Norman Rockwell appeal, we didn't want him along on this stroll. For the last year or so, we've been losing a battle trying to curb his wandering urges. We've tried reasoning with him. We've tried tying him to a dog run. We've put him in the kennel. We've even used the shock collar. But no matter what we try, the moment freedom raises its hand and waves a beckoning gesture, Larry responds.
We turned back for home. Larry thought this was great fun. At first, he marched just in front of us. I could see he was rising to the occasion. He was a Saint Bernard with a little barrel of whiskey tied to his massive throat. We were a pair of lost Swiss orphans, following our hero down the mountain and to a waiting chalet, where we'd all indulge in toast and hot chocolate, and beef-flavored dog treats. But then Larry spotted a bird, forgot the waiting chalet, and veered off the trail to give chase.
"Larry! Come here!"
He obeyed with obvious reluctance. Within a few minutes he began trotting and quickly put thirty feet between us.
"Larry!" Dave called again.
For heaven's sake, Larry thought. But he obeyed.
Dave then remembered a phrase from a long ago time when we innocently believed Larry to be trainable. During that vain period, Dave took Larry on regular walks and tried out all kinds of commands. Sometimes I'd go along, and I could see Dave's thoughts as clearly as if they rose above his head and wrote themselves into a mini-movie. "I will take my big, black dog and show him off to the world. We'll enter competitions, where his instant responses to my commands will cause a unified gasp to ripple across the crowd ... I'll look humble when I accept my giant trophy."
It soon became clear that no giant trophy would ever grace our mantel. Dave shelved the Keep it Simple Stupid dog training book and Larry promptly forgot the handful of commands he'd memorized.
Or so we thought.
"Right here!" Dave said. And a miracle occurred, right there on that snowy trail. Three years after he'd last heard that particular combination of syllables, something in Larry's memory sparked ... and he complied. He fell in line with Dave's right leg.
"Did you see that?" Dave asked.
He got to try out the command again about twenty seconds later, just about the time that staying at Dave's leg lost its luster.
"Right here," Dave said again. Larry looked back, slowed down, and fell in line with Dave's right leg.
All the way home, Larry tried to walk ahead, and Dave called him back with two simple words from a long-ago training session.
I'll admit it: this is not the best illustration you're ever going to get, but it's all I have to give you. "Train up a child in the way he should go," the Scriptures tell us, "and when he is old, he will not depart from it."
Take heart, you who love your wandering scoundrels. The words you've spoken, the wisdom you've shared, the love you've poured out--it all remains. Though you may think those things gone, it's not so. They're rooted in memory. And in the end, what you gave will make a difference.
Hey, it worked with Larry.