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The Yankee Express

Lincoln’s best day

Aug 10, 2021 09:12AM ● By Chuck Tashjian

Another car ride, another adventure.

By Amy LeClaire
The summer is different. His orange ball is still there, frozen in time beneath the deck. I walk around the yard to check out the new blooms (what did I plant last year again?) and wait for Lincoln to trot by my side, the blue ball (yet another) lopsided in his mouth. He loved to shadow me while I kneeled down to dig a hole, then drop the ball down into the fresh soil.  “I was thinking we could play ball today.” 
Dog People understand. A dog’s presence, coupled with his personality, are qualities unrivaled by anyone or anything else. Dogs bring us the intangible reminders that life is perfect just as it is, and so aren’t we. Everything is as it should be, and we are just right, as-is. The sun is out, the birds are singing, and guess what--?  We’re together. Let’s go smell the roses! Better yet, let’s play ball around the roses! 
Every dog I have owned, though different in breed and personality, has reminded me of the importance to be present. Max, my childhood fave, was a medium-sized mongrel partial to Rhodesian Ridgeback roots. His sleek coat, a peppery cinnamon shade, betrayed a cheap diet of value-packed kibbles and occasional table scraps. My family’s 35 mm slide shots (later) captured his life of leisure on the big screen, a white sheet repurposed for movie night. There’s Max on the front lawn! Remember the orange shag!  Max lived the life of a rock star. He would taunt our neighbor’s irritable, long-leashed dog Lido, galloping to the very border of the dog’s furthest edge to flaunt his freedom. Until the unlucky day when Lido broke free. 
“It’s Max!” I sobbed to my father. “Lido’s going to kill him!”  
Max shook off the fight. He may have needed to trot the hood with one eye shut, but he got over it. That was the seventies.
Fast forward forty years. Living without a dog still feels unnatural and still, like sitting on a broken, unused wooden rocking chair. I’m still “getting-it-done” (an energetic person by nature) but there’s a disconnect in the process, a blip in the journey. I no longer wait in Dunkin Donuts Drive-Through lines. What’s the point? My trips with Lincoln were not about the donut and coffee. Rather, they were about the journey. I’ll never forget the time I brought Lincoln through a McDonalds Drive-Through line for the first time. He sniffed the air, took in the sights, and barked with belligerence, his world askew with change. Where are the pinks and browns? The smell of hazelnut? What’s with the gigantic letter M? Wrong, wrong, wrong. He paced the backseat with fury, completely beside himself. “It’s okay, Lincoln. Mummy just wants to try a Newman’s coffee today.” A burger at the window may have sold him, but he knew what he wanted. I miss seeing his head tilt to the robotic sound of the speaker voice before greeting his Dunkin pals. “Hi. My name is Lincoln! Do you happen to have a piece of Day-Old cheese?” 

Every single day spent together was the best day of Lincoln’s life. Dogs appreciate us fully. They love us every day, regardless of circumstance and without exception. They study our habits and remind us of their favorite quirks. The mere jingle of my keys would set Lincoln into a spiral of elation, as though we were about to embark on an exotic cruise. He’d hop up to the backseat of my Pilot and wait for me to drop the window down. The destination didn’t matter, only the journey. “You’re such a good boy, Lincoln.” I’d reach back to pat his head and he’d break into smile. “I know I am.” 
His last day of life, unexpectedly and remarkably, ended on a snowy April 16th with a car ride. He didn’t know the ending of that ride, only that we were going on another adventure together. Although I’ve found myself second-guessing what I could have done better (why didn’t I pack a jar of goat’s milk for him to sip in the backseat?) I know in my heart that his ending was exactly as it should have been. My husband, heartbreakingly, had to turn down his request to play ball in the snow early that morning. “Daddy, it’s snowing out! Let’s go play!” More devastating (for me) was facing his moment of truth, when Lincoln actually made a mind-body connection in regard to what was happening with his breathing and consequent ability to function normally. He knew he wasn’t right. A few days before his time, he even tried to “hack up” the tumors in his throat while out in the back yard. My dog is innocent. Please, give me his pain. 
Up until those final days, he was able to find a way around his illness. Most days, I don’t think he even knew anything was wrong with him. His thirst for being happy and his will to go on overshadowed any discomfort. 
“Go ahead, Lincoln. Take your ball.” I was desperate to see Lincoln as I always had, and as he always was. He was ageless, a survivor, the largest male of the litter, and he needed to go on.  “I can’t play anymore. It’s my breathing.” That morning was different. He rested his head on his chin and turned his head away. My eyes closed in pain. 
Then something happened. The sound of my key jingle awakened him to old times!  “Want to go for a ride, Lincoln?” The inflection in my voice (I fought to sustain a positive ring) was just what my dog needed. He snapped up and led me to the accent table by the refrigerator, where the same ball he had just resigned from had rolled beneath. “Great idea! Let’s bring my ball along too!”  Old times.
Rushes of cold air and snow blew his ears back while, window open, he watched the world pass him by. The moment was harsh and unforgiving but, for Lincoln, it was beautiful. Another day, another car ride, another journey to take part in. Yesterday’s worries were gone. Tomorrows were pointless.  All that mattered was that his two favorite people were taking him somewhere. Where to? It didn’t matter. “Lincoln can come too.” I repeated the words over and over while he rested on my lap and went to sleep. All that mattered was this. We were together. 
Every day spent with Lincoln was the best day of his life, even his last.
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