I remember winter as a never-ending cold and snowy season. Not like it is now, with snow falling beautiful and pristine, only to be dirtied by plows and traffic, then melting to a dismal gray. When I was a little girl, winter came and stayed. Snow covered everything, and stayed that way until I was begging to see grass again. But then again, I loved snow days; a day free of school and chores.
Mom or Dad, but mostly Mom plowed the driveway. I never remember shoveling any snow. Dad got a plow that fit on the front of the Ford tractor, and Mom just pushed all the snow out of the driveway leading to the garage, and the driveway to the barn and to Little House, and around the circle drive. That’s how our tinsy dog Bingo ended up dead. Bingo was one of the few dogs that Mom allowed to stay in the house. He was an itty-bitty rat terrier. Bingo followed Mom everywhere; sometimes she let him ride on the tractor with her. One day Bingo followed Mom when she was plowing the snow off the drive, and he ran right out into the road. Ka-blewy. That was the end of Bingo.
Deanna and Bonita and I were sitting on the linoleum, upstairs in our bedroom playing a game of DIG, which was one of my favorite games, ’cause it’s all about words, and I liked words, so I was pretty good at word games. Mom came upstairs and said, “I’ve got some bad news.” My heart about stopped, ’cause Mom never said anything like that before. Plus, she looked really sad and tired, like she better sit down before she fell down.
“Bingo ran out in front of a car when I was plowing the drive,” she said. “There was nothing I could do to stop him.” Mom’s eyes got all watered up, and she licked her lips. She looked at Deanna and then at Bonita, and then she looked at me, right in the eyes, like she was trying to see what I was thinking. Bingo was the cutest little dog we ever had.
“Can we see him?” I said.
“No, I buried him already.” she said.
Lots of times animals died on the farm. If it was a cat or a small animal, me and Bonita buried them. Well, to be honest, mostly I had to bury them and Bonita went along to help keep me brave, ’cause burying dead things is kind of creepy. Digging a hole in the winter is super-hard, too. I was glad Mom buried Bingo. I let my breath go out all at once; I didn’t even know I’d been holding it in, until it came out in a big rush like that.
“Can we get a new dog?” Bonita said. Her eyes were dancing like she was about to race downstairs and get the “D” encyclopedia out, so she could start picking out her favorite dog, which would be something way different than what Dad would bring home, anyways. ‘Cause Dad brought home dogs that spoke to him and told him they wanted to live on his farm, and they never ever looked like the dogs in the “D” encyclopedia. They looked more like the stray dogs in Lady and the Tramp.
Mom’s lips pressed together in a straight line and her eyes got all fish-eyed: you know, those see-through eyelid that slipped down over fish eyes so they can sleep. Those kind of lids blocked out distraction, but the fish can still see. I learned about it on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Now, that was a pretty neat trick. I was half-way certain mothers could do it, ’cause my mom sure seemed to see everything, even when she was asleep. Sometimes, she seemed to see right inside my brain. Fishes can’t do that; that trick is only for mothers. Lots of times, she said, “I don’t know about the way you think sometimes,” so maybe she couldn’t see all the way inside my brain. Anyways, this day, she was looking at Bonita like she might say that to her. She just shook her head a bit, turned around and went downstairs, without saying anything at all. Sometimes, silence is way worse than any words.
Deanna gave Bonita the bloody-knuckles and told me she was all through playing DIG, and it was a dumb game anyways. I wished my best friend from the bus, Betty, was over, ’cause she liked playing DIG. I kinda missed her on snow days, ’cause the road was too covered with snow for me to walk to her house or visa-versa. Mom said she would never see me on the road, ’cause of all that snow piled up higher than the cars’ roofs. She already knew that seeing was useless, if a car was coming at somebody she loved, but that’s the reason she gave me.
I looked around for Bingo and then remembered he was dead and buried already. My stomach hurt at the very bottom part, not the in-my-throat kind that told me I was about to throw up; the kind that’s way down deep, like some invisible monster reached in and squeezed super hard and then tried to turn me inside out. I remembered how mad I was at Bingo when he got into the brooder house and went after the baby chicks and gave one a permanent limp. I wished I could tell Bingo one more time how much I loved him.
Dad did bring home an orphan mutt, soon after Bingo was gone. I don’t remember his name or what he looked like. I do remember Bingo: almost all white, with brown-black patches over his eyes and what looked like freckles around in back. He had an irritating little yap, licked faces and smelled sweeter than any other dog; probably because he got to stay inside. Bingo was good at scampering into places he didn’t belong. He was especially good at squeezing into my heart. I think about him any time someone sings his song. Which, with four children and twelve grandchildren, is probably way more than anyone should think about a dog.
In the moments of our lives, we never know which memories will stay with us as clear and pristine as new fallen snow, which we’ll remember with fondness, and which we will bury. Still, all those simple moments, the sparkling and the dismal gray, are what weave us into who we are. Marvelous.