Dawgs in the Night
It was nearly 3 a.m. when my red Mustang coughed and died ten miles from home, with my three-year-old son Clinton fast asleep in the back seat. I had picked him up at the babysitter’s after my shift at the Players Club. As a single mom, I worked two jobs ― during the day at a hair salon and at a neighborhood bar at night.
I put on my sweater, gathered Clinton up in my arms, and took off down the dark road in search of an open gas station.
“Great,” I scolded myself, “Why didn’t you get gas earlier?”
Why? Well, before my shift that night I didn’t have any money. Even now I barely had enough. Tips had been slow at the Players. Just shut up and walk, I told myself. It was freezing out there. I put my head down, adjusted Clinton’s weight over my hip, and walked.
I wished someone would stop and offer me a ride, preferably a woman. After a year of bar waitressing I had had enough of men.
Headlights approached. It was a beat-up old pickup truck driven by a beat-up old man. The back of the truck was full of dogs, all sizes and kinds, and all eerily quiet.
Shoot, I knew the chances of a woman showing up this time of night were slim. At least this guy was old. If I had to, I could outrun him.
“Hey, girl, what’s wrong?” he hollered.
“Outta gas,” I answered and kept walking.
He put the truck in reverse, backing down the road to stay up with me. “You need a ride?”
“No, that’s okay. It’s not far. You go on. I’m fine.”
“Dang! Do you know what time it is?”
“Hell yes, I do. I just got off work and picked up my boy here. Now leave us alone. We’ll be okay.”
“Ma’am, I’ll take you over to the highway to get gas. I’m not gonna hurt you. My mama was a single gal, too. Come on now, get in.”
Clinton was getting heavy. I was dead tired and cold, and I had to be at the salon early the next morning. I considered my options, studied the old man and his load of dogs, then pulled open the door and climbed in.
Country and western music played softly on the radio as we drove along. The old man asked me Clint’s name and mine. I asked his. It was James. We rode on in silence.
At the gas station, the old man got a gas can from the back of his truck. As the attendant filled the container, I leaned over and quietly asked him if he could take me back to my car.
“No’m,” he answered, too loudly, “I’m alone here. Can’t this guy can take you back?”
The old man looked over to us and shook his head.
“Come on, Mister,” the attendant said. “You can do that for the lady.”
“She’s skeered of me,” the old man said.
The two men stood and stared at me.
I sighed. “Okay. I’d appreciate the ride… really.”
Back in the truck, I felt the old man sizing me up. I had the horrible feeling he was going to ask me to do something I didn’t want to do.
“Little gal,” he said, his face breaking into a big grin. “I guess you know there’s a price for this here ride.”
Oh, no, I thought. This was my worst nightmare.
He pointed to the back of the pickup. “The price is you gotta take one of them dawgs. I got too many. I was gonna drop a few of them off out here in the country but who knows what would happen to them? I love ’em all, but my wife says enough is enough. So, you take one. That’ll appease her for now.”
I looked at the dogs. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll take that little one there.”
He looked where I was pointing. “That scruffy, wiry little mutt? That’s Diane… damn good dog. Don’t eat much and comes when you call her. She’ll be good for you and your boy… never seen her growl or bite.”
“Jeez, I hope not,” I said. The deal was done.
Back at my car, the old man put in the gas while I looked over my new charge, Diane. She was scruffy and filthy, but she held my gaze with an intelligent look. I decided she’d clean up nice and be sorta cute, in a very ugly-dog kind of way.
I thanked the old man and told him to come by The Players some night and I’d buy him a beer.
“No, ma’am. My wife don’t let me go to bars. You just take care of Diane and call us even-Steven.”
The next morning Clinton woke me up with the question, “Hey, Mom, where’d we get that dawg?”
That dog, Diane, was the best. Loyal, playful and sweet, she loved Clint and me with the true-blue love only a dog can give. She followed me around, always looking up at me with those soulful eyes. She slept on Clint’s bed keeping him safe and warm at night. She and Clint had many Christopher Robin and Pooh adventures, Clint on his Big Wheel, Diane running along behind him. She went nearly everywhere we went, riding in the back of our Mustang convertible like a princess, tail wagging and ears flapping in the breeze.
A few years later, we decided to move to California. It tore us up, but we had to let Diane go. I knew I couldn’t handle starting a new life in a new city with a dog.
Chloe, our next-door neighbor, who’d become a grumpy old woman after her husband died, still loved two things in life — talking to Clinton and watching after Diane when I was at work. I asked her if she would keep Diane until we got settled in our new home. Chloe walked around with a frown for two days but finally said yes. She’d take Diane.
A few years later, while visiting my family in Texas, I stopped by Chloe’s. She saw me pull up and ran out to meet me. “You can’t have Diane back,” she informed me. “She’s my dog now.”
“That’s okay, Chloe,” I said quickly. “I just came to say hi.”
Chloe did not want me to see Diane. At the time I didn't understand. However, many years later, after loving and caring for many dogs, I now know why. Chloe was terrified of losing Diane. That dog had opened Chloe’s heart and had become her family. Chloe was not going to chance having her heart broken by loss again.
I believe dogs come into our lives for a wonderful purpose. Diane came into Chloe’s to keep her company after her husband died. She came into mine when I had given up on love and people, especially male people.
Diane also taught me two huge life lessons: 1) to put gas in your car before you run out, and 2) sometimes angels come driving down the road in beat-up trucks, and sometimes they come covered in fur.