Contributing Author–My Son, Jeff
Adventurers at Heart
Our children, Bobby, 14; Jeff, 12; and Jennifer 7, were always adventurers at heart. I like to think they got this trait from me, and I got it from my maternal grandmother, Loretta Lathrop Ford. I wish so very much that they had had a chance to know her, but, unfortunately, she passed when Bobby was an infant.
In 1980, our local neighborhoods were less congested and calmer, and the streets were much safer. And, after depleting all known in-home childcare providers, this was the summer when our family agreed that our eldest son, Bobby, would step up and be responsible for himself and his siblings.
The kids would usually sleep in until 9 or after, watch some cartoons, and get themselves dressed and fed. I worked just 4 miles away and I would come home at lunchtime and return again around 5. And, often, I would receive phone calls from home whenever there were questions to be answered or permissions granted. This wasn’t always an ideal situation, but we all, fortunately, survived with many stories to tell and laugh about later.
PeeJay–a Siberian Husky Mix
One day, near the end of summer, one of our kid’s many adventures led Jeff to encounter Pee Jay–a Siberian husky mix pup. It all started when he decided to cut through some woods as a shortcut to a place behind Silver Hill Road, in Suitland, which was about two miles away. The kids referred to this place as “the pits.” Through my research today, I learned that the property had been owned by Buffalo Sand and Gravel, Co., Inc., and it had been a gravel quarry–hence, “gravel pits” or “pits” as the kids called it. One section of the pits had a large mound of earth known as “Boot Hill,” where kids would play–what else–but “King of the Hill.” And, for whatever other reasons, this is the place where the kids gathered. And, it was there, just inside the woods adjacent to the pits that Jeff found Pee Jay. She looked to be about 6 to 8 weeks old.
Now, Jeff was an avid outdoorsman and animal lover who was always bringing home animals that he had found, had saved, had captured, or just plainly encouraged them to follow him home. Jeff knew if he asked to bring home another animal that we would say no. On the other hand, if he showed the pup to mom first, then she would fall instantly in love with her and would help him win over his dad.
So together, Jeff and mom decided they would wrap up this little ball of salt and pepper fluff in a cardboard box and give her to dad as an early birthday present so it would be even harder for him to say no this time. But, too, we all knew that dad was a softy at heart and once he saw the adorable little ball of fluff pup inside the nicely decorated box that he would be unable to resist her, even if he did lay down some hefty rules about care and responsibilities. And, true to form, dad didn’t disappoint. We now had another family member–one, we would quickly learn was a great companion for the kids and also had an adventurous spirit! What better a fit could we have asked for?
A New Home, Companionship, Love, and Adventure
We would soon learn just how good a fit PeeJay was as a family member and adventurer. The kids enjoyed taking her everywhere in the neighborhood that they went. PeeJay loved it, too. She loved everybody and everybody loved her. If the boys went to the creek to catch frogs, PeeJay went along, too, and even would go in the water for a swim. The problem with her swimming in the creek was she always came back smelling of sewer gases and we would have to bathe her and put odor repellent on her to get rid of most of the smell, but it would take about a week for the water’s stench to go away.
PeeJay sensed when the family was going to leave home and not take her. She didn’t like being alone and it seems as if she always had a plan should she be left home alone.
In those days, we didn’t have air conditioning and in the spring, summer, and fall months, we would raise our windows so the air could circulate through the screens and inside the house. Jennifer often had visits from PeeJay who had adeptly torn through the screens at home to go meet and greet her at school at recess time and sometimes to walk her and the boys home in the afternoons. All the school and church staff and children knew PeeJay. But, I did get a few calls asking me to leave work to come get PeeJay because she was distracting the kids from their studies. I have this somewhat of a “Little House on the Prairie” picture in my mind where PeeJay is gazing inside a classroom window at Jennifer and Jennifer is embarrassed but waving her arm furiously out the window at PeeJay trying to shoo her away.
The boys always took PeeJay down the street to the “circle” where many of their friends lived in the cul de sac. If the boys played tag, PeeJay played tag. If the boys played ball PeeJay played ball, and if the boys wrestled, PeeJay was in the thick of it. She truly was just like having a fourth child, and most times well behaved.
However, on this one day after the parents had gone to work and the children to school, I’m thinking PeeJay had an Elmer Fudd moment and thought; “sshh…be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbit .” And, sure enough, the kids’ best friend Tommy, had a pet rabbit in his backyard. This was the day that PeeJay made enemies by eating “wabbit for wunch.” I think Tommy’s mom disliked dogs anyway, but this was totally unacceptable behavior for any man or creature in her book. I think until this day, that she has not forgiven PeeJay or us for allowing her to roam and be free with the kids (even if it was against our will or wishes, or best efforts to keep her in–short of caging her).
We also made the initial mistake of having PeeJay ride along with us to visit my parents who lived about two miles away, but across a major highway. One Sunday evening after returning home from our visit with family, dad called at 11 o’clock to say; “We have a visitor at our front door. Do you know where all of your children are?” Low and behold, when we let PeeJay outside before we turned in for the night she had decided she wanted more time with my parents and their dogs–who all got along famously. After the shock, surprise, and a few laughs, we got dressed and went back to mom and dad’s to retrieve PeeJay. The first time, we thought; “Oh, how clever a dog you are, PeeJay!” But when she started making it a nightly ritual, praises were the last words in our minds or out of our mouths. So this one night after retrieving PeeJay several times before and receiving yet another call from dad, we asked him to turn out his lights and go to bed and ignore her. As hesitant as we all were, PeeJay within half an hour meandered her way back to her own front door and we let her in. There also were a few times where we would head to mom and dad’s and stop by the Giant Food Store to take a few things to contribute to a family meal. And, when we got to our parents we found that PeeJay had arrived ahead of us!
As the kids grew older, they still involved PeeJay in everything they did. I won’t ever forget the feelings I felt when I saw Jeff riding a motorcycle down the street and sitting just as casual and as proud as she could be in the seat in front of him was PeeJay. She had his kerchief wrapped around her neck and sunglasses covering her eyes. I swear if dogs could smile, that she was wearing one, too!
Doggone that Adventurous Spirit
Over the years, it got increasingly difficult for us to get PeeJay back in the house before we left for work, or school, or elsewhere. Jennifer now was in eighth grade. It was sprinkling rain outside, we were running late, and PeeJay knew she was going to be closed in the house with the windows shut. Jenny and I chased her several times. PeeJay thought this was a game and every time she’d let us get close, she would dash away again. Fed up and running late one day in 1987, I asked Jennifer to get in the car and assured her that PeeJay would return home shortly or be home when we returned. Well, much to our dismay, PeeJay never returned to us. We don’t know if someone stole her as friendly as she was, or someone or something harmed or killed her. Despite all my denials, the kids thought for years that I had gotten fed up with PeeJay’s antics and had taken her to the animal shelter. PeeJay added so much fun and joy to our family. PeeJay was a part of our family for about eight years. We will always miss and remember our family’s days with PeeJay–Doggone it!