Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Surprise from Longago

My story is like that of so many others like me. The child fell hard in love with Lassie and with Terhune’s Lad and that love guided the rest of our lives. And even though the object of our affections was not always the collie per se, that vision of human/dog relationship presaged all our futures. Trainers, breeders, handlers, devotees.

I was a purist. Everywhere I went I looked for collies. Sunday drives with my family led us into the country where any green field might reveal a gold and white figure. I read books that held even the vaguest hint of collie talk, including Tess of the D’urbervilles because there was a tiny collie on my cousin’s copy. All I know of kindness, nobility and character was formed in that focus. Mythical, beautiful, possible.

When I got involved with papillons my thought was that they were the smallest in a line of 3: collie, sheltie, papillon. I was convinced that papillons and shelties shared at least one ancestor (and indeed they may have). And that connected them all back to collies. I needed the smaller dog who would fit in my smaller house and smaller car AND be able to fly in the cabin of an airplane with me. I cannot imagine ever being without a papillon. But on my 50th birthday, we added a collie to our household because there was nothing better than to fall headlong into young love again.

But as with all things living, the life story changes as it grows and unfolds in surprising ways.

When I was about 10 I read a book called GAY, a Shetland Sheepdog several dozen times while studiously copying Margaret Johnson’s drawings. (That study was to last well into adulthood, as my library reveals. The great ones are almost as much a part of my mythology as Lad. Peter Pumpkin, Steely Dan, Sea Isle, Pocono, Banchory, …)

One day when I was about 12, I was upstairs in my grandfather’s sitting room listening to records of the Rolling Stones. Ruby Tuesday. The poignancy of the song, the sunless 4pm air and the rain made me feel very very far from everyone. I was alone. I was waiting for someone to come home. And suddenly I had a clear vision of myself walking under the enormous leafy trees, rounding the corner toward that big house on Cotswold Rd….with a sable Shetland Sheepdog. I cannot hear that song or… have you seen her dressed in black… without reliving that moment; it is embedded in the music.

And then suddenly at 51, with collie and papillons, I have a 6-month-old sheltie pup in the house. The story of how she came to be here is one of serendipity and luck, synchronicity, need and timing. She came because we thought we could reboot her confidence and because I had a strong feeling that I knew what had happened to turn this live wire into a flickering bulb. And because she gave us a clear sign of trust.

And here she is. For a week now she’s been here and by day 3 I was hopelessly smitten, plunged down the rabbit hole …moved by her courage and trust and joy. Hungry for the feel of her perfect little skull and the smell of her puppy fur. When her breeder offered her to us we said yes.

When I look at her, I hear Ruby Tuesday and I remember those moments of clear transcendent desire I had as a child. All those hours and weeks, months and years of pleasurable agonizing over which breed to commit to had come to this.

Holding her against my chest this afternoon, her head tucked under my chin I noticed how exactly she fit into my arms, how perfectly she balanced in my lap. It occurred to me that all my life this was what I had wanted…this breed…this magical little collie…as sensitive and loyal as I remain to that image born into the loneliest days of my childhood…

And so it was for that hour this afternoon and so it may be for a long time. But what matters is that we have found each other over miles and years and we can take that walk I envisioned: one foot, then another towards wholeness, on a lonely tree lined street in the rain.

Gayton photo 12/2008


  1. What a cutie patootie! I am sure she will pester Maudie no end. Even though our dogs don't live long enough and we love our old guys there is something about the promise of a new puppy!

    Kathy J

  2. and boyo do we need that!!