Friday, September 29, 2006

The Huckster

Benita Long

When I was a teen-age girl, I learned my family included a lot more than just humans, like my family pet Huckleberry. Close friends of the family asked us, “Hey you guys want a puppy?” She was the cutest mutt I had ever seen. She had soft golden hair and these deep dark eyes you could get lost in. The previous owner, Valeta, said they reminded her of huckleberries, thus her name Huckleberry. Soon she was known as “The Huckster.”

In the morning she and mom would see us off. Unlike our working mother, Huckleberry would greet us when we returned from school. We could always count on her to wait for us at the end of our driveway, which she took upon herself to designate as her spot. Right there by the tree she posted up, her dog scent was our freedom from the classroom. The smell of outdoors, ponds, grape fields, and farm animals next door was a wonderful smell after a hard days work in class.

She wasn’t a professionally trained dog but listened to us kids. She also wasn’t a mean dog but protected us when we were in danger of any type. We all shared a love for singing and dancing. Whenever any of us would start up in a goofy, fun way, she would chime in eagerly. Huckleberry was a good dancer and her singing was about as tolerable as my own.
After a day of errands, shopping or just being gone from the house all day, we could see her excitement from the car. At just the sight of the car she would be singing, dancing, hopping and twisting. We wouldn’t even be in the driveway yet and she’d be in her spot just going crazy. She barked only after we got out of the car as if to say, “Where were you? What took you so long?” She liked to sniff us all before we got near the front door just like she was inspecting us closely. Who knows what she was looking for, but I know that when I came home with an injury from a basketball game, she inspected me a little longer than usual.

“The Huckster” was a valued family member and proved her loyalty on August 27, 1997, when seven search and rescue members, and a helicopter, the Tribal police officers, Sheriff’s department, family members, friends and volunteers from the area couldn’t find my little brother and first cousin when they were missing. After three and a half days of searching the bighearted volunteers walked up with expressions of shame and failure on their faces. I watched my Huckleberry’s behavior change. She was behaving weird and anxious which was very annoying. When I would go look down the canal road for them myself, she would come with me and always stop at one particular area.

Behind our house there was this dirt road which ran along side the farmer’s irrigation canal. It went all the way up to an irrigation ditch which drained into the canal from about twenty feet up in the air, we called it “The Falls.” We were kids and didn’t know any better so we would play, swim and float down from our swimming area at the falls to where our tree was at. On the other side of the dirt road were the ponds. While swimming or just wandering around, I could always smell the sweet grapes in the summertime, and the oil from the noisy asphalt company. I have many good memories there.

This area she would stop at was about eight feet downward from the road. Huckleberry would run down it and wade in the water. The canal was almost twelve feet across and with water in it was about four feet deep. She would swim in circles barking, it sounded like a sad cry. She kept getting in the rescue team’s way. When they would near that particular area, she would just not move from that spot. Then finally a diver investigated her stubborn stance and it was then and there they found our missing family members’ lifeless bodies.

After their traditional funeral was done, Huckleberry wasn’t a worrying dog no more. Huckleberry did share the heavy heart of loss with the rest of her family members. We noticed how sad and lifeless she became. Not only did we lose the kids, but she lost her kids too. She hardly ate and hardly ever played. I don’t remember seeing her sing or dance anymore. I missed her annoying behaviors. My family missed our Huckleberry. She was now a “waiting dog,” waiting for her kids to come home from the last activity they left to go do.
Then one day we came home and found her lying on her side, in her spot where she would dance and sing when “all” her kids would come home. All of us. I got out of the car walked over to scratch her tummy and said, “Hello Huckster, it’s just me.” Only this time I patted her stiff body and realized she wasn’t waiting for them to come home to her, she was waiting to go home to them. One of the most important lessons in life I ever learned was from “The Huckster.” She taught me that you cannot put limitations on the true meaning of family.