All I can remember is lying in bed crying, and vowing never to read a book again.
My Dear Sweet Mother told me how great “Where the Red Fern Grows” was and how much I would love it. And I did … while hating her for suggesting I read it.
To the uninitiated, “Where the Red Fern Grows” is the story of a boy and his two coonhounds. Spoiler alert: The freakin’ dogs die … and it’s gut-wrenching and might be the reason that I haven’t seen a movie starring or read a book featuring a dog since, because in my mind the dog will die and I will cry like I did when I read about Old Dan, Little Ann and that freakin’ mountain lion.
“Marley and Me?” Nope … haven’t seen it.
“Racing in the Rain?” Nope … won’t read it.
“Beethoven” … are you kiddin’ me?
“Turner and Hooch” … No thanks, but loved “Forrest Gump” and I was an emotional rock, even when Jennie died.
I will admit to watching “Fox and the Hound” and I still bawl like a baby when Grandma drives Todd off to the game preserve singing “when you’re the best of friends,” and he just knows something is wrong.
Geez! I’m sniffling just thinking about it. And here’s a secret … I don’t cry well, like that Indian in the old pollution commercial with the lone tear rolling down his face. That’s a cool, tough, manly kind of crying. I’m ugly when I cry. It’s hard to look cool when I’m doing this weird hiccupping/hyperventilating bit.
But for all the adolescent pain and emotional arrested development “Where the Red Fern Grows” caused, it left me wishing for a dog of my own. So as soon as I graduated from college and moved off on my own, I did just that.
His name is Ringo. I’ve had him for 15 years and like Old Dan, he’s dying. But there’s no life-and-death battle against a mountain lion that’s killing my best friend. It’s simply time and old age. The arthritis is so bad in his back legs that they shake and fail when he tries to jump up on the curb. Worst yet, his kidneys are slowly failing. It’s a bitter reality that a dog who was so easy to housetrain is wearing a diaper.
He’s really more cat than dog — choosing to show affection only when he wants to, and most of the time can’t really be bothered. I’ve never even been sure if he likes me but being a bit of a curmudgeon myself, I could only expect to have the favor returned in Ringo.
He’s also smarter than me. He peed on the long-ago girlfriend who brought him home from the pet store, realizing way before I did we were better off without her in our lives.
But the last few years have been good, and 15 years is impressive for a beagle. I know the decision will have to be made soon. I want Ringo to go out with dignity and I hope I can give him that rather than holding on too long.
It might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, saying goodbye to my best friend, but I’ve already got a spot picked out for him. And while a red fern might not grow there, I’ll plant something just as special … probably crying badly the whole time.
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.