Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Dog Named Jiggs

I wasn’t expecting a puppy for my fifth birthday. I wasn’t expecting anything. Things were really tough in those days and I wasn’t even thinking about it being my birthday, no one mentioned it.

My best friend Billy had leukemia and had passed away that windy November day. I was sad at the news and had been sleeping in my upstairs room when I heard my mother call. “Larry, it’s time for dinner.”

I got up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I noticed it was dark outside. And I turned on the bedroom light.

“Hurry, Larry,” I heard my sister call.

I wandered down stairs. The kitchen was lit up and the room filled with balloons. In the center of the table was a cake with candles burning. My dad was standing behind my mother and my sister was jumping up and down with a big smile on her face.

“Happy birthday,” they yelled as I came through the door.

“Wow! I forgot it was my birthday,” I said.

“Make a wish,” my sister said.

I made my wish and climbed up on a chair and blew out the candles.

My dad came from behind my mother and held out my present, a brown and white puppy with floppy ears and big brown eyes. I took the puppy, unable to speak in my excitement. I had always wanted a puppy, but my mother told me she didn’t want a dog in the house. I looked down at the little thing in my arms and couldn’t believe it was true. It looked up at me and licked me in the face.

“Look!” I exclaimed, “Jiggs likes me.”

“Jiggs,” my dad said. “What kind of a name is that for a dog?”

I looked at my dad. “He’s my dog and I like the name Jiggs,” I said.

“Then Jiggs it is,” Dad said. “Who wants ice cream with birthday cake?”

We all had birthday cake before dinner that day. The day I lost my best friend Billy, I gained a puppy that would be a bitter sweet story in itself. 

Several months after my birthday, my parents separated and got a divorce. By that time Jiggs had grown into a mischievous teenager, chasing cars and getting injured on more than one occasion. Jiggs didn’t seem to realize chasing cars was dangerous, but he survived the scrapes with the moving vehicles.

It was during the divorce that my two sisters and I were taken to live with an aunt an uncle in Patton Valley, a tiny community in Oregon, not far from the town where I was born. We arrived at the farm of my aunt and uncle, but my dog Jiggs was nowhere to be seen. My uncle said Jiggs jumped out of the pickup truck somewhere between Sheridan and Patton Valley. That should have been the end of the story of Jiggs, but the story takes up again nearly ten years later.

I was a teenager starting my junior year in high school. My sisters and I were living with my father in McMinnville, Oregon. My father had a sewing machine store and was on the road several days a week demonstrating the features of the latest sewing machines. On a Friday afternoon he came home with a story that to this day I am certain was something not too short of a miracle.

“I think I found Jiggs,” my father said at the supper table. “He was your dog Larry, and I think he might still remember you.”

“Where? When can I see him?”

“I checked with the people and they say we can see him tomorrow morning. They were just as surprised as I was that this may be Jiggs. They renamed him, but he answers to Jiggs and seemed to know me. The people found him nearly ten years ago at their front door in Hillsboro, a town Uncle Ray passed through on his way home to Patton Valley. The time frame fits and the area fits, and get this, the dog chased cars until it got seriously injured and nearly had to be put down. After that accident he never chased a car again.”

The next day we visited the people we believed had Jiggs. When I called Jiggs, the dog, now old and slow, immediately came up to me and jumped up. I petted him and my dad, the people and I talked about what we should do. The people with the dog had a boy who had known the dog as his own from the time he was two years old, when Jiggs had shown up on their doorstep.  I couldn’t imagine taking the dog from him, they were so close, like Jiggs and I were so many years earlier. We went home to McMinnville and I, somewhat saddened by the event, was moved by the experience. I may never have remembered Jiggs the way I have, had not that day later in my life happened. Jiggs came into my life at a sad time. I had lost my best friend and then my parents went through a divorce and we three kids were placed in a strange home with an aunt and uncle. I could have remembered Jiggs for those sad days in my life, but that all changed that day, when I found Jiggs in a home with another boy. Now, Jiggs reminds me of those things we don’t have control over in our lives, and regardless of how bad we think things are, there is always a greater purpose at work. Jiggs took my mind off the loss of my best friend and filled my days with joy for several months, then went on to another home, to lift the spirit in another young boy.  

Jiggs reminds me today that there are many things we don’t understand and there are things we don’t need to understand. We need to count our blessings today and not worry, for tomorrow will take care of itself.    

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bullet Bob and the benchwarmers

I attended my high school reunion a few years back and made the mistake of attending the Homecoming football game. My high school was clearly the underdog and, while we all like to see the underdog win, this was not to be. By the start of the second half, the rival team was four touchdowns in the lead and they had already started using their second string. By the third quarter the rival team was using a few of their third string and all of the fourth string against my school’s starting team. It was a disaster, but it brought back memories of a homecoming game I played in many years earlier, and although I was on the winning team that time, the real story was the player who got his fifteen minutes of fame in that one game.

We had a second-string quarterback who had warmed the bench most of the season, but with our team clearly in the lead, the coach was determined to give all those on the bench a chance to show their mettle. So was the case with the second-string quarterback, later nick named, Bullet Bob, by the state’s largest newspaper. Anxious to make a good showing, Bullet Bob threw a pass and we immediately scored a touchdown. After our defensive team got possession of the ball again, our Bullet Bob called for another long pass and we scored another touchdown. By the time the game had ended, the bench  had scored more touchdowns than the starting team and the sports reporters were clamoring all over themselves to get an interview with Bullet Bob.

Bullet Bob never went on to play college ball, nor did he ever have another near flawless night on the high school grid-iron, but that one night he was the hero, he got the sports page headlines and his, once-in-a-lifetime, fifteen minutes of fame. For the rest of his life Bullet Bob never made the sports page headlines or any other headlines for that matter and as the years went by he was known simply as Bob, but that one evening on the grid-iron was the highlight of his life and the one moment of glory every bench warmer longs for. So here’s to the coaches who give the Bullet Bobs of the world a chance for their fifteen minutes of fame and here’s to the bench warmers, may they all have the opportunity Bullet Bob had so many years ago.