“Are you sure this is the one you want?” our neighbor asked my grandpa. “I mean you have first choice; and this one…well you can see, this one is sort of…”
“Special.” he finished for him.
The neighbor smiled. “I was going to say puny, but special will work, too.” He shrugged. “Don, we’ve been friends for years and I don’t want no bad feelings coming between us because of this dog. Look at him, you can see plain as I do, he’s a runt. Only got one good eye and is cripple on his right hind.”
“Like you said, Harold, I can see plain and this is the dog we want.” Grandpa looked at me, smiled and winked. “Ain’t that right, Nat.”
It was a statement, not a question and it was hard to meet his eyes. I was only five, but even I could tell something was wrong with this dog.
“Nat?” He said again. “
I swallowed hard and nodded.
Harold placed the eight-week old red Cocker into my arms. He barely moved, barely breathed. “Dog should have been put out of his misery the day he was born. Probably die before the week’s out,” he mumbled.
“What did you say?” Grandpa said.
“Nothing,” he responded.
For various reasons I had been raised by my maternal grandparents on their farm in Kansas since I was two. On the dusty, quarter mile walk between, greening oaks and corn fields to our home Grandpa asked. “What shall we name him?”
I cuddled the sleeping pup. “Don’t know.”
He reached over and stroked his head. “How about RC?”
“Something I read once. Something you’ll read too, everybody does.”
“Even Mr. Harold?”
“Even him. Anyway for right now, let’s just settle on RC, okay?”
“Okay.” I agreed.
RC didn’t die that week as our neighbor down the road had predicted. Blind in one eye, lame on his back leg and with a voice that was more a rasp than a bark, he even out-lived Harold. What he lacked in physical prowess, he more than made up with heart and unabashed zeal.
Amid the chores of farm life, RC became the center of my life – my constant companion – my dog. Exactly how that came about, I can’t recall. It might have been the way he snuggled with me in bed; licking my face to wake me. It might have been the way he hobbled, chasing ducks around the pond. Maybe it was the pitiful one-eyed look he gave when being scolded or the scratchy bark from the front porch warning us of visitors. It might have been so many things – none of it mattered, because that little runt had magically wiggled his way into my heart and sparked my love for animals.
Just after my eighteenth birthday, as I was preparing for college, my grandpa and I sat in the barn. It was a perfect early fall afternoon. RC lay in the golden daylight of the opened barn door, content and gently snoring.
“He’s been a good dog.” Grandpa said.
“He has,” I agreed.
“Your grandma and me will take good care of him while you’re away.”
“I know.” I hesitated and then looked directly at him. “I still don’t know why you named him RC.”
“No matter, when the time is right, it will come to you.”
That time did not come until five years later. After graduating college, I began my study in veterinary medicine and returned home for my grandpa’s funeral. It was early fall once again. I sat alone on the front porch with RC when a rabbit darted in front of the stoop. RC was after it like a whelp. I moved to watch him as he hip-hopped down the same dirt road I had carried him home upon so many years before. Oak tree leaves splashed around him like pooled gold as RC ran - yelping, happy, a whole spirit in a broken body.
Suddenly, I knew. “You read your heart, didn’t you, Grandpa?” I asked aloud, not taking my eyes from my constant companion as he raced onward. “You were RC’s lifeguard.” I drew a breath. “You were my lifeguard.”
RC’s hoarse bark carried joy across the open sky and found its way back to me. My spirit soared with his. He was alive, my own life on course, simply because one man read the words God had written on his heart and made the Right Choice.
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