Silver was the first dog in my life that I remember. Even though I didn’t name her, her name suited her. She was an all-white, medium sized Alaskan malamute type of mutt. And…she was my best friend. When your only brother is nine years older than you, you don’t have close familial playmates to occupy your time. Luckily, I grew up in the 50’s. Extended families tended to live close to each other. Cousins were abundant, and even a an almost 4 year old could walk by herself around the neighborhood to find a playmate. However, there were days when Silver was the only one around. In hindsight, I was lucky to have her. After all, she taught me life lessons that no one would ever teach me half as well.
“This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.'” Zech 13:9
Silver had an incontinence problem, so she couldn’t stay in the house all the time. Mom always said it was because they neutered her too early in life, still – if the night was really cold, she slept in the kitchen where clean-up was not too much of a hassle. In the 50’s, it was not considered cruel to keep a dog chained to a lead wire in the backyard. Silver had a long wire that ran from her doghouse to the end of the yard. There was plenty of shade where the dog house was and lots of sun further away if she wanted to walk to it. To me, that walkway was huge, but I’m sure it wasn’t as big as I remember it. There was hay in the winter, baby bathtubs full of water in the summer, and wonderful nights when we were allowed to snuggle on the old back porch couch when it was too hot to sleep inside…a mini-campout made perfect with parents singing and a guitar or banjo playing back-up.
While there are many things I learned from Silver, there are one primary lesson that comes to mind immediately whenever I see a picture of her. The first part of this lesson occurred on a hot April day. I was just a couple months away from my 4th year of life. I decided that I wanted to play “store” with Silver. Going to the store was an event in those days. Stores were not always open. You got dressed up go to the store. Most of the time, the only stores you went to were in your small town, and of course, there were no stores (not even gas stations) open on Sundays or holidays………at all…………….ever. In my mind, going to the store was special. So Silver and I walked up and down her path – many, many times. At some point, my mommy yelled at me from the kitchen to let Silver rest. She said it was too hot to be pestering the dog. I didn’t listen, and the rest was a lesson seared into my mind. I leaned close to grab Silver’s collar, and she nipped at me her answer. Unfortunately, she nipped my bottom lip and split it up the middle.
In our PC society of today, Silver would be logged as a vicious dog. Tested for rabies. Impounded by the county. Locked away from the little girl and family she loved. But, lucky for me and Silver, common sense still held sway over most things. Little girl drove dog nuts on a hot day and got what she deserved. Mommy yelled, “I told you so,” as she picked me up and hauled both of our tails to the hospital for stitches. One wise doctor who figured out how to save a lip with only a tiny bump and a scare as a reminder, and one huge lecture from my parents a few days later led me to be assigned my first chore: make sure that Silver had water every day. After all, I needed to learn that pets were not just toys. We needed to be respectful and care for them like we would like others to care for us.
Sadly, like most of the lessons in my life, I didn’t learn this lesson very well the first time round. A few years later, in a new house, Silver was still my responsibility. But I forgot. I got side-tracked. It was another hot day. She went without water all day, and when Daddy came home from his factory job, he found a very hot dog by the garage, panting and very weak. The car horn beeped three times. I came running from my “new” best friend’s house; sure it was time for supper. Instead, I got my butt warmed from the house to the garage where I got the pan for water, and then got swatted a few more times (for good measure – I’m sure) on the way back to the water spigot. It is the last official spanking I remember getting in this life. I also remember lying on the ground with Silver for a long time. Tears were falling, but more over her being so hot and looking awful than from the spanking I had just received. Most of all, I remember the talk my Daddy gave me after I finally left Silver’s side.
Sometimes lessons are pretty easy to absorb into our reality. Other times – lessons have to be repeated until they are learned. If we are lucky, we have parents who are patient and willing to help us stand back up and face our failings. As we get older, we think we are past those lessons from our parents. We become adults. We move away. We start families of our own. We struggle to become parents. Our parents age and pass away. But in reality…silently…consistently…, our other parent is still offering lessons. Minute by minute. Day by day. Year by year. Repeating them when we need them. Helping us to stand when we fall. We just don’t like to acknowledge it very often. Rabbe Yeshua called Him “Abba”. I call Him “Father” because Christ did.
I like to think that Jehovah-Shammah let us name the animals so that we could not only identify them by name, but so that we would feel for them a tiny bit of what He felt for us when He named us: “man” …… “woman”. Naming something brings the power of love more deeply into our selves and shapes our relationship with them. I think this lesson really was driven into me when I held my first new born child and felt the responsibility of “naming” them. What a gift. What a responsibility. What a chance to feel just a touch of what Our Father feels when He stands beside our “dog house” and waits to take us to the store.
“Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.” Gen 2:19-20