“I looked at his grave and, with tears in my eyes, I voiced these words: ‘You were worth it, old friend, and a thousand times over.’”
—Wilson Rawls, Where the Red Fern Grows
If you don’t know whose grave the narrator’s looking at, stop right now. Go read the book and come back. I don’t want to ruin the ending.
When I picked up Where the Red Fern Grows for the first time, I was a little girl with a puppy. I’d had a dog when I was a baby too, but I couldn’t remember that one. So for all practical purposes, I was a little girl with her first puppy. The puppy was a golden fur ball of misbehavior and energy. I had stubbornly convinced my sister to let me name the dog Marcy, which was the name of the black poodle (or something like that) that I’d really wanted. Instead, we got this allegedly more family-friendly creature, a stray with a hodgepodge of breeds in her ancestry, mostly golden retriever and cocker spaniel. They assured my parents she’d stay small (because of the spaniel in her). She didn’t. All that to say, I may not have been tromping through the woods with Marcy, but I understood the love between Billy Coleman and his dogs.
I suppose it’s no great surprise, then, that I find myself revisiting those same pages sixteen years later, realizing that my best friend is gone. Anyone who says dogs are just man’s best friend has never met a girl with her puppy—or seen that girl and puppy all grown up. There is no feeling like wrapping yourself around such a loyal creature and letting her warmth and her affection melt away
the pain. She’s been there for me through broken hearts and every time someone important to me has died. She got excited with me, soothed my fears, and comforted me through every disappointment. She was always there to greet me when I came home.
And now she’s not.
When I go home in just under a month, she will not be there. When I Skype my parents in the next few weeks, she won’t be barking in the background. I have never in my memory faced death without her. I have never had to feel this sad without being able to hide myself against her. She was always ready to comfort, always took my side, and never required me to understand or explain myself.
So when I go home and I look at her favorite places to curl up, I will remember what Billy said, “You were worth it, old friend, and a thousand times over.”