Thursday, February 25, 2010

Elmo, Dad's Sidekick

Whatever happened to that pie-eating, parade-loving bear of a black lab named Elmo? Better known as Don Bovaird “The Tree Man’s” popular sidekick, Elmo did the rounds with him every day for four years from the back of Don’s 1939 Ford pick-up. “That dog never gets sick or tired of the road,” Don used to say, noting how Elmo played his role as ‘ambassador’ to the hilt, welcoming kids and adults alike to “Elmo’s Place.” They made a good team.

Not everyone who saw Elmo liked him riding in the back of the truck. Always the storyteller, Don used to talk about a woman who once criticized him, “That dog doesn’t even have any water!” Don quipped, “Neither do I and you don’t see me complaining.” Truth be told, that dog was treated better than most kids.

Not all tree climbers appreciated Elmo’s gusto either. Once working on a lake bank, a customer set out a large plate of freshly baked cookies. Don arrived on site. He started talking to the customer. Elmo was given a rare respite from the truck. "Let him run around," the customer invited. Elmo was having a good run when he spied the cookies. That dog gulped every single one of them down. "Ah maan," one worker moaned when he found out. "That's it! Tie 'em up. Let's throw Elmo over the lake bank!" another tree climber threatened in jest. Don shook his head, as he does when he is startled, "Get in the truck, Elmo!" He let down the tailgate and Elmo obediently jumped up. I picture him saying that with a touch of humor in his voice. It was the talk of our dinner table that night.

Dad took Elmo everywhere with him. Dad even made up a dog bed and Elmo slept in the truck at night. The next morning after his morning bathroom run, he'd get back up and they'd be ready to start the rounds again.

After my father passed away, my family thought Elmo should have a different kind of life. A corrections officer that my sister knew fell in love with him, and offered to take him in. She had a farm and other dogs for him to run with. It was a sad day for me when she came to pick him up a a few days after the funeral. It was another drastic change for me. Losing Elmo felt like losing a little more of my father. I wasn't ready to deal with that.

I think my father would be happy to know he's well-cared for, and often gets rides in a large van around town. I call his new owner from time to time to hear about Elmo's adventures with his new pack, and once I even got to see him.

Sometimes I imagine dad driving up to the farm in Cambridge Springs. He'd lower the tail gate of his truck and say in his matter-of-fact way, "Get in, Elmo." Elmo would be wild with excitement to see dad after so long. He'd leave the pack and jump on up into the truck. Their day would continue as if they'd never been apart. I love this scenario. But it does make me teary-eyed.

My father, always practical, would have seen the situation as my family did. Dad always looked forward. He might reminisce but never let sentiment cloud his enjoyment of living each day and appreciating what he could do with it. He moved on.

I'm trying to adopt that attitude.

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