I’m making an effort to extend my writing skills by writing up several epsodes from my life. Some of these I’m writing up just because they’re a good tale and I’ve been told I need to, while others are intended to be reused (with suitable alteration) in various fiction projects. This is my first tale, which is appropriately enough the earliest memory I have. I’d love to hear any feedback yo might have to offer.
My earliest memory is of a brush with death. I was three years old and had slipped the parental leash so I could go exploring without adult oversight. In order to have a proper adventure, though, you have to have companionship; I had Missy, our young part-Sheltie canine nursemaid, out scouting ahead for me. We made a good team as we made our way up the sidewalk past the houses on our street into the undeveloped lots; she’d dart around and sniff out potentially interesting sites to which I would then dutifully toddle over and examine. At least for the first few minutes, I was fascinated by each new find, even if a suspiciously high number of them were dead spots in the grass.
Then we arrived at the irrigation canal, over which the street and sidewalk continued their unbroken asphalt and concrete progress. While I’d many times ridden over it in a car, I’d never had the opportunity to examine it closely before. I hadn’t been planning on looking at it now, but at that moment Missy veered off onto the small game trail that bordered the edge of the canal, hot in pursuit of the tantalizing scent now burning into her nostrils. “Come back!” I shouted, and was disappointed when she heeded no better than I did.
This was my first dilemma of my new adventure. On the one hand, I knew my parents wouldn’t be happy with me for being out here in the first place so I wanted to stay safely on the sidewalk. This course of action wouldn’t keep them from being displeased, but it probably would save me from any discipline worse than a quick swat on my butt, especially since I pointed out my ace in the hole – the fact that I had prudently selected an older, experienced companion for my excursion. Missy might have been a dog, but she had proved several times over that she had more common sense than I did; she had been gifted with an awe-inspiring amount of mothering instinct and used it as naturally as breathing. On the other hand, if my ploy of taking Missy along as my adult supervision was to retain any value, I had to be able to say truthfully that I’d stayed with her the entire time. I confess that even then, I was quick enough to consider the fact that by following Missy, I would have the opportunity to examine the canal safely from the bank.
I was off in a flash, abandoning the safety of the sidewalk to plunge into the scrub grass, dirt, and shrubs that filled the undeveloped lots through which the waterway traveled. The canal was dug in more or less a straight line, although it had a slight dogleg to the left a good distance away. The edge was loose dirt, sloping steeply down a good distance to the surface of the water. There was a tiny dirt path that more or less tracked a line two feet from the edge of the canal, weaving in and out of the grass tufts. Missy had run down this path and was rapidly disappearing around a bigger bush up ahead, so I churned my stubby legs and ran as quickly as I could to catch up. By the time I arrived at the bush – which was a monster of a specimen – Missy was no longer in sight, and my piping cries to her continued to go unanswered by her presence or even a bark.
I slowed down as I approached the bush. The dirt game trail we’d been following went under the foliage and Missy had been able to squeeze under it, but I was going to have to go around it. This would take me right to the edge of the canal. I never really stopped to consider what I was doing; the only thing that concerned me was keeping up with Missy. I stepped off the trail and began to make my way around the bush. I didn’t even make it half-way around before the lip I was standing on gave way and I began sliding down the slope. By chance, I managed to grab one of the branches, which momentarily checked my descent. I was now laying face down on a steep, dirt slope, crying in terror while hanging onto a flimsy branch that was slowly peeling itself free. “Missy!” I screamed. “Help! Help!”
Finally, the inevitable happened and the traitor branch parted from the bush, allowing me to tumble the rest of the way down the slope into the water, ass-over-teakettle. I hit the water head-first and promptly gave free reign to panic, screaming and thrashing as I attempted to right myself. The slope of the wall continued underwater and gave me no purchase for me feet; I remember sinking entirely beneath the surface of the water and managing to desperately push my head back up for another gasp of air. I had water and mud all over my face and couldn’t see and I knew I was in the biggest trouble I’d ever seen in my life. All I wanted was to see Mom and Dad, and if that meant a spanking, so be it.
And then something grabbed me from behind by the sturdy fabric of my toddler overalls and began pulling me inch by slow inch out of the water. At first I didn’t know what was going on and screamed even louder. I’m not sure how Missy was able to keep her hold on me with all of my wriggling and thrashing, but she kept her jaws locked on me until I suddenly figured out that I was being taken out of the water. At that point, I calmed down enough to start using my feet to push against the slope and give her a bit of extra leverage. At that point, our progress back up to flat land went more quickly.
We lay there on the path, totally exhausted – soaking muddy child and panting dusty dog. Several times, she lifted her head and thrust her nose into my face to give me a comforting lick before settling back down to rest. That is the only time in my life that I’ve ever welcomed a dog licking my face. The sun was shining enough that I felt like I was starting to dry out, and after some time had passed I’d calmed down enough that I could consider my next choices.
Now that I was safely out of the water, I really didn’t want to face my parents after all. Even though my precautions had clearly been sufficient to get me out of any trouble, they would be unlikely to see it that way. They would insist on delivering unto me the mother of all discipline; spanking was definitely in my future, and I might even lose some privileges. It was unthinkable. Clearly, I couldn’t go home until I’d dried out. Dirt and even some mud I could explain; I was by no means a naturally clean child, and when you live in a neighborhood where the older kids regularly engage in dirt-clod fights, parents are no stranger to kids covered in good clean filth. I’d get a scolding, but that was definitely preferable to the alternative. I cautiously allowed that perhaps I’d even earned a scolding this time.
Thus we set off, boy and dog, victim and rescuer. She didn’t leave my side for the rest of the day, and when I finally came home encrusted with dried mud and dirt, I got the scolding I expected (but not the one I deserved). My parents didn’t know the truth of that day for many years, long after we’d said our final goodbyes to Missy. After her, I’ve not had the heart for any other dog.