Was it the winding roads, the sound of crickets in the night or the hush of the river below that made me fall in love with the trips to my grandma's house each summer? I don't know for sure, but there always was a calling to cuddle up in that old chicken-feathered bed I'd get to sleep in.
The summer that changed my life was when "Skipper" came into my life. I wanted to call him "Side Kick," but Grandma said he skipped around, so that's what we called him, Skipper.
I was only about 6 that summer, and I was happy school was out and I began packing my clothes. Didn't need much there. I went barefoot most of the time, and it was hot and muggy, so just a few T-shirts and shorts. My mom always made sure I had my toothbrush and all. Me? I just wanted to go wade by the river and walk in the woods and maybe even sometimes ride Hank, the old mule, but he walked too slowly for me. I needed to run!
When I stepped onto the porch that summer, Grandma smiled and said, "Child. I've got a surprise for you! Let's go to the barn."
I ran -- pulling her as fast as her 78-year-old legs would waddle and carry her. As we entered the barn, I heard a yelping noise and our eyes met. Skipper and I just looked at each other. It was love. Just plain love. That little puppy and I just knew each other. I have never felt that feeling before. Sure, I was happy when my younger brother and sister came into the world, but this feeling? This was the first time I felt this much joy. My heart hurt I was so excited.
From that moment on, Skipper and I did everything together. We explored the river where the bullfrogs hide. We chased possums up trees and laughed at their rat tails. We found a secret place next to the old oak tree and I told Skipper all my dreams and my thoughts about how everything was. He just sat there listening and looking at me with those big browns. I don't tell many people this, but Skipper told me some things that nobody knows.
Summer went way too fast that year. I remember Mom and Dad driving up in that old black car. I think it was a Buick. I told Skipper they were coming, so he was prepared. I gave him a bath the night before so he would smell real good. We ran up, and Skipper just welcomed them with all of his heart. He gave Dad a kiss so big I thought I would pop a button or something.
I just knew everything was going to be fine. Everyone was so happy.
That night I heard Grandma talking to them about how Skipper and I had connected and that she was fine if I wanted to take him home. I couldn't hear what they said. Everything seemed so hush -- hush.
The next day I remember Dad asking me if I wanted to take Skitter home with me, and I said, "Yes! He's my best friend ever!" Dad had that look and talked about living in the city with cars and trucks and noise and pollution and school and my brother and sister and money and our small apartment, and I just didn't want to hear no more. Skipper just sat there looking at me. I don't know why but a tear snuck out of my eye.
Mom said she would give me a dollar for some candy if I left Skipper behind. I said, "No way. A dollar isn't worth anything. Besides, Skipper and I belong together."
Then Dad smiled and asked, "How about if I give you five dollars and you can do whatever you want with it?"
I had never held five dollars in my hands before. That would buy a lot of candy and anything else I would ever want. I said, "Okay."
The only thing I remember after that was looking out the back window of that black car at my grandma holding Skipper. I looked at the five dollars in my hands. I don't know how or if I told Skipper goodbye. I don't remember much.
Somewhere in time I realized money can never replace love.
Skipper, wherever you are, thank you for loving me, for listening to me and for teaching me value of love.