By the time I found grandpa, I had cried myself out of tears. As I recall, I was about eight years old at the time. Ever since I could remember, our dog Old Shep had been by my side. He was my constant companion, and my keeper. But at breakfast that morning, dad told me today was our last day with Old Shep. Tonight, after we went to bed, Old Shep was going away. I tried to understand why Old Shep had to leave, and where he was going. Dad told me that Old Shep was going to see grandma. But that explanation did not make sense to me. I never got to see grandma anymore. And now I wouldn’t get to see Shep anymore, either? By the time breakfast was over, I was crying and confused. I went looking for grandpa.
“Grandpa,” I asked when I found him. “Where did grandma go? When you came here to live with us, grandma wasn’t with you anymore.”
“Yes, that’s right. It was grandma’s time to move on. Why do you ask, son?” came grandpa’s reply.
“Dad says Old Shep is going to visit grandma. He says today is my last day with him. Shep is leaving tonight after we go to bed.”
Grandpa sighed. Then he looked toward the window. Finally, he asked me, “Do you see that light coming in the window?”
It was a summer day, early at that time of morning when the light was still a soft golden color. “Yes, grandpa. But,”
“You might be asking the wrong questions,” grandpa continued. “I think about your grandma all the time. But, we can talk about her tomorrow. Today, you should be asking yourself what you are going to do with the light.”
“Do what with the light, grandpa?”
“Yes, that’s what I said. What will you do with the light? Tonight, after the sun goes down, Old Shep is leaving. There is little you can do about that. I understand that you are sad because this is a sudden change. You’re sad to be losing a friend. But the two of you still have a beautiful day ahead. A day filled with sunshine and the company of each other. So, the question to ask yourself right now is, what will you do with the light?”
Grandpa had the type of wisdom that even a child could understand. I went straight away to find Old Shep. I found him in the back door yard. He looked toward me when I opened the screened door. When I let the door slam closed with a loud smack against the house, Shep walked toward me. He was slower moving than usual, but he perked up when he saw me. And I was happy to see him, too. I can still see him in my mind. That glossy black coat. Those tan spots above each eye. And a tan bar across his chest. We stood face-to-face, Old Shep and the eight-year-old me. Then I grabbed my lifelong friend in a bear’s hug. I buried my face in his black fur.
We went up the hill and fed the chickens. I threw the birds some scratch. Shep was moving slow. I had to wait for him to catch up. But we managed to get the birds fed. Over by the picnic table, some raw fish guts got left out. It looked like somebody had caught some fish, but not cleaned up the scraps yet. Shep sniffed around it. But in an unusual move, he did not eat from the smelly pile. He must not have been very hungry.
We went over to the hog house to watch my uncle feed the pigs. Then we went out to the pasture to look for gophers. We avoided the east pasture, because that’s where the bull was. We went down to the pond and caught some frogs. We went over to the creek to see a Kingfisher dive into the water and then back up to his perch with a squirming crawfish in his mouth. After lunch and a nap, we went with mom into town. We had to pick up some feed and other stuff at the feed store. Old Shep didn’t ride in his usual spot in the back of the truck. He rode up front with mom and me. He made a little mess on the truck cab’s floorboards. Mom said that was OK.
After supper, our family spent the evening together on the back porch. The sound of tree frogs trumpeted from the creek. The adults played cards. Old Shep and I had spent a full and active day together. We had gone to all his favorite spots and played with some of his favorite toys. We were both tired. When we went to bed, Shep would liked to have jumped right up on to his familiar spot. But tonight, dad had to lift him up there. For as far back as I can remember, that was the place where Old Shep had slept every night of my life. On top of my blankets, at the bottom of my bed. He laid with his back butted up against my feet just enough so we could feel each other. As I always did, I poked one foot out from under the sheet so I could feel his soft, smooth fur on my toes. Like every night before, that is how we fell asleep. When I woke up the next morning, Old Shep had moved on.