I Love Lucy…The Sweetest Dog In The World
By Dorothy Beavington
Christmas, 1945. My mother and I stand in a long line-up on Christmas Eve to pay a bill. I cling to her side, a tired and cranky six year old. I want to go home. I hate this Christmas. Daddy won’t be with us. Daddy built a sailboat with my cousin, Johnny. They called it “The Skylark” and took it for its maiden voyage on Chestermere Lake, just outside of Calgary. It was the Labour Day weekend, Sunday, September 2nd. A wind came up, the boat turned over.
Daddy wasn’t a strong swimmer. Johnny made it to shore. He looked back, saw his uncle Kit was in trouble, and went back for him. They both drowned, caught in the weeds in the lake. Mom had just given birth the month before, and was now left with three little girls and no money.
I had been very mad at Daddy when he went to drive away that sunny morning. I wanted to go on the sailboat. I crossed my arms and pouted as he prepared to go.
“How come I can’t go?” I whined. “I love sailing.” I didn’t know what sailing was, but if Daddy was doing it I wanted to be there. Daddy tugged at my braid and kissed me on the top of my head.
“You can go next time,” he said.
Daddy got into his car and waved goodbye. There was no way I was going to wave back. No way.
“Come on, Dorothy Anne. You can’t stay mad at me,” Daddy said, grinning at me. “Come on, wave.”
He was right. I could never stay mad at him for long. I waved. I raised my arm and waved.
“Next time,” he shouted as he drove away in his rattletrap of a car.
I adored my sweet, funny, skinny Daddy. He carried me on his shoulders when we came back from Grandma’s every Sunday, and sang love songs to my Mom, Bessie, all the way home. He made life exciting and fun and safe. Now life was no longer safe. I clung closer to my mother.
“Dorothy Anne, let go of my leg,” Mom said. “ I can barely walk. We’re almost done, and then we can go home.”
I released my death grip on her leg and turned to see a man carrying a cardboard box, coming up the line, chatting to people. When he reached us he showed me what was in the box.
There were three black-and-white spotted puppies, wiggling and nipping at each other’s ears. I knew Daddy had sent one of them for me.
“Mom,” I said, “Look what Daddy has sent me for Christmas.”
Mom looked down into the box. Her features softened. I thought she was going to cry.
“Which one has Daddy sent me?” I asked.
“Oh, Dorothy Anne, it costs money to have a dog.”
“But this dog is from Daddy,” I insisted.
The woman behind us asked how much he was asking for the dogs.
“One dollar, special Christmas rate.”
I reached in the box and picked up the smallest puppy.
“That’s the only girl,” the man said. “She’s very gentle, good for kids.”
The puppy looked into my eyes and her tongue came out, pink and wet and she licked my face. She had ears like dark velvet, and brown liquid eyes. She was the most beautiful dog I had ever seen.
“This is the one Daddy sent for me,” I pronounced.
Mom was at the counter now and paying her bill.
“Oh, Dorothy Anne, I don’t have a dollar left,” she said, counting her change.
I started to cry. Then I began to howl. The man looked at me and at the puppy who was nipping my ear.
“How much do you have, lady?”
“Thirty-five cents,” said Mom
“Merry Christmas” he said. “The dog’s yours.” He quickly grabbed the change from her hands. “Just get your kid to stop bawling.”
I hugged the dog to my chest as she wriggled and squirmed.
“I’m going to call her Lucy,” I pronounced.
“I hope she doesn’t grow too big,” my Mom said. “You have to take care of her, walk her, feed her, clean up her you know what.”
“I will, Mom, I will, I promise. Mom, let’s go home. Lucy’s getting cold.”
I wrapped Lucy in my blue scarf grandma knitted for me, and we took the bus home. Mom put Lucy in her big shopping bag because we didn’t know if we were allowed to take a dog on the bus. We giggled when we got to the back seat without being discovered. Suddenly, Mom didn’t look so sad. Her face looked almost happy, like it used to look. Lucy kept quiet if I let her chew on my fingers.
That night, in bed, I curled my body around Lucy’s. I told Lucy about Daddy’s dog, Mikey, who had been so sad after Daddy died, and always looked for him at 6 pm when Daddy came home from work. Mikey was a border collie and Labrador cross and Daddy said he was the smartest dog he’d ever seen. I told Lucy how I had found Mikey in the yard a month ago, on that cold November day, jerking uncontrollably in the snow by our front fence. I screamed for Mom, but it was too late. I saw the partly eaten piece of poisoned meat by the fence. The person who had poisoned four other dogs in our neighbourhood, had also poisoned Daddy’s dog. Mom couldn’t stop crying. When she did, she phoned Uncle Bob and he came down to bury Mikey in the frozen earth. We all cried, partly because of Mikey, partly because of Daddy, and partly because it took so long to dig a hole and we were freezing. Lucy listened carefully to me, her eyes full of love. She was one of the world’s great listeners. She knew I was sad. She was there to make me happy again. She rolled over and I gave her a tummy rub. I saw that she even had spots on her belly. Her eyes closed and she went into a trance.
“Thank you, Daddy,” I said.
Lucy of the velvet ears was my guardian angel for the next fourteen years. When I went to university she became Mom’s guardian angel. Mikey may have been the smartest dog, but Lucy was the sweetest. Mom always said it was the best 35 cents she ever spent.
I strive to live life with a compassionate heart and a playful, loving spirit. Who says life begins at 40? For me it begins at 70. At 70 I took up djembe drumming, zumba dancing, trained as a Hospice volunteer and in Therapeutic Touch, had my ears pierced and let myself be picked up in WalMart by a lovely Italian gentleman for a cup of tea. I also went back to work with adults with a chronic mental illness. It is wonderful to be doing meaningful work again. The clients teach me so much about courage and the human spirit’s ability to survive and thrive. I feel blessed.
Dorothy’s son, Lee Beavington, is an award-winning author and poet. This is his website: Author, Biologist, Stargazer.