As a parent, I can honestly say that for many years my top priority in life was the safety of my children. My assumption is I am not alone. We watch them and protect them until they are able to fend for themselves. Yet, despite our best laid plans, most children find a way to make certain we don’t wait too long for our hair to thin out. Both my parents should have been bald in their twenties.
From about age eight, I was always in a river or exploring the woods. My friends and I were forever building rafts that broke apart mid-stream or spending the better part of school holidays lost among the pines somewhere. Banging into river rocks and falling from trees was regular entertainment.
Billy and I were especially close. As far as I know, he was and still is my oldest friend. We were born a week apart, shared our childhood adventures on a daily basis, and only separated after college. Years later, we made contact and renewed our lifetime friendship. We did, however, mature differently. That is he matured, and settled down. I still have some “bad boy” in me.
In any event, around age five, Billy’s father gave him a German Shepherd puppy as a Christmas present, and he named the pooch Rex. We both grew up with Rex. I hardly recall a day without that dog. He could be a pain during ball games because he stole the ball after every hit. It was difficult to play a board game because Rex loved to wait until we were an hour into it before trampling across the board. But we absolutely loved him.
Rex was as gentle as any Golden or Lab I ever shared my life with, and I took many a beef bone from his jaws. We wrestled him and even tried to ride him, sometimes successfully. For eight or nine years of my youth, Rex was one of my best friends.
As a parent, I realize child protection takes on a different meaning today. It seems as though there are more lunatics and pedophiles running loose. We didn’t experience that very often in the old days, but I am certain they were out there. And to this day I still wonder.
We must have been about nine or so, and Billy and I were bored to tears. Summer vacation from school was not exciting, unless we decided to make it so. We often decided to make it so. That meant rivers where we did not belong, or woods that were off limits. On this day, we chose the woods.
I loved to hike, camp, and fish in those days, but they were not activities my parents enjoyed. Whenever I had the chance, even to make believe, I jumped on the opportunity. Billy and I packed a healthy Yoo-hoo and Devil Dog lunch and meandered down a trail we had never traveled. For about a half hour, the trail was clearly marked, but then things got a little sketchy. Within an hour, we were lost, and about an hour later, we began to worry about it.
Unfortunately, the problem was not our lack of skill exploring the woods. As we sat scared on a rock trying to come up with a plan to get home, we were startled by the voice of a man who appeared even sketchier than our collective senses of direction. As he approached us, we froze. He beckoned us to follow him to safety.
We were only nine years of age, and adventurous, but not stupid. We were vulnerable and knew it. What neither Billy nor I realized was that Rex, resting behind the rock, was not at all at risk. For the first time since his puppyhood, we heard Rex growl. I don’t mean a growl, but a SNARL, with teeth, that frightened us. Fortunately, the beckoning man was considerably more unnerved.
As the man bolted through the woods, Billy and I ran in the opposite direction, Rex re-joining us in a moment or two. We figured we were lost for good, but the scary incident had sent us in the right direction. In about fifteen minutes, we hit a dirt road with which we were familiar and safely headed home with another adventure under our belts.
Two weeks later, that unsavory character revealed his colors. His picture appeared on the front page of the local newspaper. He had been arrested for attacking a fourteen-year old boy. How did Rex know? Neither one of us ever heard him growl, snarl, or bark in anger again. Yet, on that day, he was an Archangel.
I loved Rex, and he was Billy’s dog. I have had many dogs in my lifetime, usually four at once. None was ever mean or aggressive, but all were very large. My wife often tells me I have a “thing” about big dogs and believes it emanates from that experience from my childhood. I am not sure about that theory, but I do know that I have a way with the large breeds.
I remember that scene in A Few Good Men when Demi Moore told her colleague, "Because they stand on a wall and say nothing is going to hurt you tonight. Not on my watch." It was a lesson I learned from my friend, Rex, many years ago.
Somehow, kids get lucky.
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