A boy and his dog

Part of the power of photography is that of memory. Like a whiff of a scent or the snippet of a song, a photograph can rekindle memories long buried and thought gone.

At my mother’s house in Walnut Grove I recently found a suitcase full of old photo albums and loose pictures. From old black and white pictures to relatively recent color ones, hundreds of photos filled the case. There were shots of my dad in his army uniform during basic training, my mom as a bobby-socks-wearing teenager, and images of my brothers and me as children. Then I uncovered a picture of a medium-sized dog sitting the grass outside our home, its head tilted to one side as if listening to something in the lawn. And I remembered Brownie.

Brownie was a Heinz-57 mutt, I don’t exactly remember where we got him, probably a stray found on the farm where my dad worked as a mechanic. I was about 4 or 5 when my father, brothers and I took him out for a walk one day.

Being the youngest, I wasn’t allowed to hold the leash, just a simple rope tied to his collar. I begged to hold him. “PleasePleasePleaseLetmeLetmeLetme!” I pleaded. Finally my dad relented and I was given the rope.

Just as he was handed to me, Brownie bolted. I can still remember the rough feel of the rope as it zipped though my hands just before my fingers could close completely on it. The frayed end tickled my fingertips as it slipped past them. We shouted for Brownie to come back, but he ignored our calls. At the same time, about a half block away, Mr. Maeda was backing his car out of his driveway. As we ran after Brownie, I remember the crunching of the gravel of the unpaved streets beneath my feet. How I wished that I could run faster.

Perhaps I closed my eyes or maybe it was just too traumatic for my young mind to process, but I don’t remember actually seeing Brownie get hit by the car. When we reached him, he lay in the street behind the car, unmoving and lifeless. Mr. Maeda got out and said in apologetic tones something in Japanese to my dad.

My father told my brothers to get an old Radio Flyer wagon as I stood next to him weeping. In a few minutes they returned with the faded red wagon with the rusting wheels. I remember how Browine’s legs, which hung over the edge of the wagon, flopped and bounced as we pulled it over the bumpy street. My steady stream of crying was only interrupted by the deep shuddering gasps of air when I took a breath.

My dad went to get a shovel to bury Brownie in the backyard when something miraclulous happened. The dog awoke, a bit disoreinted, but very much alive. There didn’t seem to much wrong with him but, we took him to a vet to have him checked out. He came back with a clean bill of health with one exception. His head was permanently tilted to his left with that curious questioning look that dogs do.

Brownie lived out the rest of his natural days as a normal dog. Every time I looked at him with his canted head to one side, waves of guilt would wash over me. Looking at his picture brought back those feelings once again.

I dug a little further in the suitcase and found another picture taken around the same time as the first one. It was me on what looks like a nice spring or summer day. I was wearing a silly hat and goofy glasses lying on the lawn with a great big smile on my face. Browine was on the grass next to me, his head in my lap. It was then I remembered that Brownie and I laughed and played like little boys and their dogs do. Despite the accident and the constant tilt of his head, he held no resentment of a young boy’s carelessness.

A photograph can capture and hold forever moments of loss and tragedy, but it can also bring back memories of better times as well.

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