“A dog is the only thing on Earth that loves you more than he does himself.” — Josh Billings
ROLLING FORK — I was going through some old papers last weekend when I came across something that figuratively knocked the wind out of me. Almost exactly 11 years ago this week, I lost a dear friend and memories of him flooded across my mind like a ship’s deck awash in an intemperate sea.
There’s a picture on my wall of my grandson when he was 10 or so, sitting on my deck, and behind him in the chair, head resting on his shoulder, is the great big, beautiful, stupid old Golden Retriever that dwarfed him both in that photo and in real life.
I felt anew the not properly describable ache that we humans associate with loss and the sometimes stereo system of my mind chose to play perhaps the best lyric from “Mr. Bojangles” that was appropriately perfect: “…his dog up and died. Yeah, up and died. After 20 years he still grieves.”
I am not a man that lends himself easily to emotions, having spent quite a few years training myself to be such. I am told that the only one I express with any real vigor is anger and that, not as much, I think as in years past. I’ve mellowed, I guess, but the fact is that the number of things left that I truly love in this life is not a particularly long one.
But I loved that dog.
He was a puppy when I got him, a gangly, floppy-eared bundle of fur-coated energy with great big feet and a healthy appetite for furniture and anything that smelled like me. When my best pair of loafers was consumed, there was a beating.
But he grew to his feet. Full grown he was every bit of 130 pounds, without an ounce of fat to be found. Shoot, for most of our lives, my dog was as big or bigger than I was.
I named him Ranger, thinking myself oh, so clever in doing so. You know, Mosby’s Ranger, like my Confederate ancestor. Everybody else thought I had named my dog after a Ford pickup truck.
Now, I have been around a lot of really smart dogs in my life, but Ranger, bless his ever-loving heart, was not one of them. Lassie or Rin Tin Tin he wasn’t. He didn’t mind particularly well; more often than not, he would just look at you with those big, baleful eyes of his and flop down at your feet or amble over to lick you.
And, the better the clothes you had on, the greater the chance of their being licked. Ladies’ dress attire was particularly vulnerable.
It’s a good thing that there wasn’t a mean bone in his body. As big as he was, and as strong—really strong—as he was, he could have done a lot of damage to somebody. But he liked people, at least most people, although I noticed and came to appreciate that he would always position himself between me and a stranger until I, in the myriad subtle, non-verbal ways that humans communicate with dogs, let him know there was no threat.
Truth be known, there were only three things that Ranger did really well—slobber, listen and love me.
From this time of year until the crispness of fall becomes uncomfortable, I tend to spend a lot of time on the deck, ostensibly “cooking out,” but in those days it was more than anything else creating a reason to spend with that old dog. That was his heavy-duty listening time. I’d tell him about the foibles of politics or the latest crazy person to call me up with something crazy or how the 24-hour news channels were corrupting society.
He’d take it all in and usually wait for the proper pause for the slobbering to begin.
What I shall always remember most about Mosby’s Ranger though, is the night I found out in my own back yard just exactly how many truly sharp teeth are in a “possum’s” mouth. Long story, but it was dark; the thing had my hand in his mouth and I wasn’t real sure what I was going to do next.
And then Ranger had the possum in his mouth and when he bit down something crunched and the possum wasn’t biting me anymore and the dog flung it across the yard.
I was bleeding quite a lot and the old dog hesitated, couldn’t decide what to do—tend to the man that was his special human or finish killing the thing that had hurt him. And in that moment, it occurred to me that no one or no thing had ever loved me more.
And after 11 years, I still grieve.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of The Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork. His column is syndicated by Mississippi Press Services. If you are interested in subscribing, email us.