External Photo Clues:
That’s my cousin Davey. We were about the same age and lived just a couple of miles from each other for most of our youth. We didn’t have any brothers or sisters and so were pretty close — as close as anyone could get to Davey, that is. Davey was a Cub Scout. Always tryin’ to do good. At least that’s how it seemed. As for me, I’d do right if the situation arose, but I didn’t go outta my way. Still don’t.
Anyway…that dog in the box? Well, there’s no tellin’ what its name was cuz it was just one of several strays that Davey had a propensity for takin’ in. By the time we were seventeen, I betcha he’d brought in about five different dogs that eventually died or drifted off again. Why, so many dogs used to come around that I figure they must’ve had some sort of signal between ’em, tellin’ each other where to go when things got tough. I guess in that respect Davey’s nature wasn’t so unusual; a soft heart for strays, be they animal or human, well, you hear about that every now and again.
It was more what Davey, well, gave up in order to embrace these creatures that came in and out of his life that made him what I would call “different”. You see, Davey already had a dog — Ginger — that loved him dearly. That’s her at his knee in the picture. Davey loved her too, until that first stray came around. From that point on, Davey had no time for Ginger. She would bounce up to Davey and the dog of the moment, trying for her share of the love and attention, but Davey was oblivious. Still, Ginger stuck by him. Oh sure, in between strays Davey would “love” Ginger again, but it was never quite right, like he was waiting for something — or someone– else to come along. Strangely, it was as though the novelty was everything for Davey. When the strays would depart –and they always did — Davey would feel bad for a day or so and then start anticipatin’ the next one. Heck, he’d even daydream about what name he would give to the next dog to come along, sometimes while the last one was still around!
Davey’s mother used to say, “Davey, I’m sick and tired of having to feed Ginger,” or “Davey, why don’t you go and play with Ginger, she’s gettin’ under my feet so’s I can’t even cook dinner,” and the like. And Davey would groan, “Aww, Ma…” and oblige, only going through the motions long enough to keep his mother from nagging.
Ginger lived a good, long life. More long than good, but all in all it wasn’t bad. She was fed well, and between Davey’s parents and the sporadic, half-hearted efforts that Davey contributed, well, a lot of dogs may have envied Ginger’s life, if dogs could envy at all.
Of course, she got very sick at the end. There was one warm and bright October day that stands out in my memory. Looking back I can see why — Davey was never quite the same after that day. We would all miss the warm, easy smile that we had come to love.
We were about seventeen and, it seems kinda funny now, but Davey did not have any strays around at the time. Otherwise, it was pretty much like any other day. After school, Davey and I got off the bus at Davey’s house and we sat at the kitchen table for awhile talking about football, a girl, or some such thing. I said to Davey that it seemed awfully quiet in the house and did he want to go outside and play catch. That’s when Davey’s face seemed to go blank.
Davey stood up and walked through the pantry to the laundry room that Davey’s dad had added on to the house a few months before. That was where Ginger had been staying since she had gotten so sick. I followed Davey. “Where you going?”, I asked.
He replied in a flat tone, “Ginger…”
She wasn’t in her makeshift bed that Davey’s mother had fashioned out of a box and an old soft blanket. In fact, even the bed was gone. We went outside to look for someone, anyone– Ginger, Davey’s dad, or mom. We found Davey’s dad back of the barn past the barnyard at the edge of the pasture. He was leaning on a shovel, under the big basswood tree next to a small circle of dark, crumbly dirt.
“Dad!,” Davey called as we walked toward him. Davey’s dad had a pained expression on his face and I looked at Davey. He had blanched to a pale grey and slowed to a halting, unsteady gait.
You would think that after that day the stray dogs would have been even more important to Davey, but after all these years, there’s one thing I’ve come to know — life doesn’t always go like you expect it to. Davey never took in another dog. A few came by in those next couple of years that Davey still lived on the farm, but he had no interest in them and so they went away, looking for the next kind soul who would feed them or take them in.
The way I see it, in a funny way it was as though having Ginger there and always loving him somehow gave Davey the freedom and the courage to love, not just dogs, but anything. Last year at Davey’s funeral, a friend speculated that Davey’s relationships with the women in his life seemed to parallel those he had with the strays that he took in as a boy; but I know better. Since that October day, Davey was really only looking for a “Ginger” in his life, and never really found her.
About The Author:
Roxanne Wodarczyk lives and works in Minnesota. Her occupation is that of international freight forwarder.
Authoring For The Imaginary Family Project:
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About The Imaginary Family Project:
The 2011 Imaginary Family Project is a year-long collective art endeavor coordinated by occasional amateur artist Quentin Bomgardner and co-sponsored by The Red Dirt Chronicles. This project is based around “lost” vintage photographs, which have been acquired at flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, and eBay – heirloom collections, with no heir. Every week a different author will “find” one photograph by creating an imagined history around one of its subjects. At the end of the year, the collection will be compiled and presented as a group.