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She wasn’t a dog anyone wanted. Bald from the nape
of her neck to the tip of her tail, she was a scrawny
little black dog with little to recommend herself to
anyone other than the little tricks she used to perform to
amuse people. A loser dog.
But then, I wasn’t a person anyone wanted either. A loser
in the eyes of the world. A ne’er do well named Jamie
Fairchild, who, at the age of forty-one, had tried his luck
in many places and invariably had failed. For twenty
years, I had become a stranger even to the members of
my own immediate family.
I didn’t want a dog. I wasn’t even looking for one. But
God has a way of intervening, regardless of our hopes,
dreams, and personal wills, not necessarily giving one
what one wants but what one needs.
“Th ey ‘tole me you needed me,” Betsy told me.
“Who told you?”
“My superior offi cers,” she smiled, elevating her chin
toward heaven. “Th ings hasn’t been goin’ so well with
ya these past twenty years. I hear tell ya had big dreams
once, but you went bust, was homeless jes like me fer
awhiles. I also hear tell them folks of your’n ain’t much
of a family. But then, mine tweren’t neither. I hears ya
likes adventure, ain’t afeerd of takin’ risks. I ain’t either. I
also hear tell ya likes to perform. I does too. But ya lost
your confi dence along the way. Well, I’m here to give it
back to ya.”
Before long, Betsy was putting me through my paces.
“Ah-ten-tion!” she’d bark at me. “Th at’s what our
C.O. always barked at the fellas I worked with in New
Guinea. Saunders was his name. Man, he was a doll,
but he could also be one mean sonofabitch, let me tell
ya. When Saunders barked them orders, them guys all
shot up straight as ramrods. Shoulders up, ass in, chest
out. Now, lissen up, Pop. Ah-ten-tion! Git that chin up!
What good’s it doin’ hangin’ down thataways on your
collarbone?”
“Well, no one would be able to cuff me under it if it’s
hanging down.”
“Lissen, Pop,” she would say. “No one’s gonna cuff you
under the chin. And if they does, I’ll take care of ‘em so
good, they won’t need to wear no shoes! No one messes
with a Marine. Not if they know what’s good for ‘em.
Now lissen up! Chin up! Shoulders back! Ass in!”
Awkward as these unaccustomed positions felt to me, I
complied with her commands.
“Yeah,” her muzzle widened into a grin. “Th at’s more like
it, Daddy.”
If Betsy had set me onto the road of physical exercise,
she also corrected my posture. If it hadn’t been for the
disciplines that she imposed upon me, I’d now be a
walking question mark.
“Why are ya walkin’ with your shoulders down on
your chest?” she’d bark. “You wanna be a hunchback
one day?”
“No,” I said.
“Th en stand straight and stop hangin’ your head,” she
said. “How are ya ever goin’ to see where you’re a-goin’
lookin’ down at the ground all the time?”
“You look at the ground when you sniff ,” I’d say.
“Yeah, but that’s only to get the smell of direction. It’s in
the dog world what you call a map in the human one. But
ya c’aint go nowheres by always lookin’ at the map. Time
comes when you’ve gotta keep your eye on the road.”
Th is was the army now, and I had become Private Jamie
to Sergeant Betsy. When I would slump down into that
easy chair, one of whose armrests she had completely
disemboweled, and had sunk into those pointless
ruminations about what I should or should not have
done so many years before, Betsy would approach my
feet and deposit at them the tug o’ war rope, fall back
on her rear haunches, her big brown eyes shining with
excited anticipation, her muzzle dropped open in an
eager smile.
“Come on, Dad, let’s play.”
“Oh, please, not now, Betsy,” I’d say.
“Oh yes, now,” she insisted. “Come on. What good’s
settin’ there goin’ over things you c’aint do nuthin’ ‘bout?
When you does stuff like this, you’re like me when a fl ea
gets on my tail and I keep tryin’ to bite it off of it, but
the more I turns around, that tail jes keep gittin’ further
away from me. Memories is like fl eas, Dad. You chew
on ‘em too long, they gets your tail sore. Ya gotta keep
your eye on your star. Th ere’s one up yonder that’s your’n
and your’n alone. Keep your eye on it, and it won’t be
forgettin’ ya. You jes take a hold on my tail, Pop, and I’ll
take ya to your highest dreams.”

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