Jack was out of town again. This time, he had left to attend a three-day course in ER surgical technique. I usually traveled with my husband, but I had signed up to teach the third graders. Tonight, it was just the dog and I.
Our youngest child had presented Buford to her dad when she'd left for college. I remember her smile. "Got him for you for when you miss me," she had said. "He's a lot like me—he's full of mischief, he wants to go out all the time, and he'll give you kisses and hugs any time you need them."
I could see the resemblance. Our daughter, Jenny, was blonde just like Buford, and they both loved peanut butter sandwiches. Buford however, outweighed our daughter considerably and his hugs and kisses were a bit more, uh . . . enthusiastic. There was nothing subtle about Buford's love. Certain lucky guests who didn't mind could enjoy full body hugs. If you even gave him the slightest encouragement, Buford would stand on his hind legs, place his paws up around your shoulders, and nuzzle his face into yours. And he would stay that way until you hugged him back. We told visitors he had a "Greeting Disorder."
Buford fulfilled all of Jenny's promises. He was a great companion, especially during those lonely months after she left for college. Moreover, though Buford was decidedly Jack's dog, Buford always had time for me too—especially when Jack traveled for work. Every morning Buford would wait for me at the kitchen door with an anticipatory smile on his enormous yellow face telling me I mattered.
He slept in our fenced yard along the kitchen side of the house. Every night before bed, I'd go out to check on my husband's pride and joy to make sure all was well. I always stopped off to tend to Buford. I'd give him a big bowl of chow, scratch him behind his fluffy ears, and tell him he was a good boy.
It was late, and I was especially tired for some reason, so I was looking forward to getting a good night's sleep. I made my way down the hall toward the master bedroom.
I slipped into bed, pulled the comforter up against my face, relaxed my body, and began to feel my brain slowing down … and then suddenly a big yellow reflection caught my attention. I sat up straight in bed and looked outside.
There was Buford. Standing outside. Where he wasn't supposed to be. With his favorite ball. Wearing a huge grin. And he was oh-so happy to see me.
I looked at the clock. It was 12:59 a.m. I looked back at Buford.
Terrific. It's one a.m. and Buford wants to play.
Jumping to my feet, I called out. "Buford, Buford. Come HERE boy!" As I hopped from one bare foot to another, I grabbed the flashlight and tried to turn it on. Nothing. Now pleading with the dog, I cried, "Oh, Buford, please come here." Running outside, I found myself drenched by the water which now erupted from our automatic sprinklers.
I looked at Buford again. He was excitedly running around in circles with his mouth wide open. Getting just what he wanted. For me to play "Chase the Adorable Yellow Dog" with him!
Poor, drenched Me was having absolutely no effect on soggy, happy Buford—clearly lost in his own personal 7th heaven of joyous abandon.
I ran back into the bedroom, frantically searching for anybody's slippers I could put on, and spied Jack's old brown slip-ons. Then I grabbed his old Army coat, size XXL. My feet were much too tiny for my husband's slippers and his coat dwarfed my frame, but I could see Buford was bounding away. This was not the time for a fashion statement.
I grabbed the truck keys and immediately thought of our neighbor, Henry. Henry and Ruth Pardue had a chicken ranch and lived about a mile away. I could hear Henry's words ringing in my head. "Hey, Sarah? Jack? There's some dog getting into our chicken houses at night. You seen any dogs around?"
I thought of how we'd looked sideways at each other and gulped. Henry thought Buford was the culprit. We wondered if that could be true. That's why we made sure to double-check Buford's gate latch every night at bed. We didn't want Henry finding Buford with a mouthful of chicken feathers.
Mind racing, I flew down the hall, jumped into the truck, and stuck the key into the ignition. I was sure Buford was headed directly toward the Pardue's chickens. I had to find that dog.
When I got closer to their ranch, I took the truck out of gear, switched off my headlights, and coasted past the chicken coops. The chickens began to make all kinds of racket, so I cowered lower behind the steering wheel.
Me, the woman wearing her husband's Size 12 slippers and his Size XXL Army coat. Me, trying to peek into the neighbor's chicken coops at zero dark thirty.
For over an hour, I drove back and forth up and down the dirt road. Buford was nowhere to be found.
I've lost Jack's dog. My husband's pride and joy.
Realizing the futility of my search, I headed back home. After I pulled into the carport, I yanked the emergency brake and sighed. At long last, I reached down in resignation to open the door and slide out of the truck.
As I turned to go into the house, I found myself suddenly standing nose-to-nose with an immense yellow dog.
Buford, all 140 pounds of him, was in the bed of the truck, smiling at me, wagging his tail, and thanking me for the fun ride.
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