Missing Lucky 13
Uncle Bob sat in an aluminum lawn chair with a Charles Daly over/under across his knees. In those days, he smoked Chesterfield cigarettes and one was casually resting between the fingers of his left hand. He was stocky and athletic. His arms were brown from being out in the sun and the forearms flexed with muscles. As always, he looked dapper; his camouflage shirt was obviously laundered at the Korean laundry where he was friends with the owners. Bob was friends with everyone. He had an easy nature and a deep hearty voice that, when combined with his schoolboy-shy smile, could melt the heart of the most hardened waitress.
Lucky 13, Bob’s yellow lab, was lying at his side when I walked up under the oak trees where the dove hunters congregated on Bill Lagle’s farm. He looked a little haggard and his coat looked rough. We’d normally hang around under the shade of those trees until the birds started flying. When we dispersed out over the field, Bob and Lucky always stayed right where they were. Bob would sit in that aluminum chair along the edge of the road and shoot birds as they came along the road to get to the field. When he shot, Lucky would trot out and bring the bird back; they had a system.
A bird came out from over our heads and, without standing, Bob raised the Daly and shot. As the bird pin wheeled to the ground, Lucky slowly got up and started across the road to get the bird. As he came back, he stumbled as he crossed the ditch. He caught himself and almost looked embarrassed. He dropped the bird and lay back down watching the sky.
“Bob, is Lucky sick?” I asked and, as I asked, I felt an uncomfortable kind of apprehension. I’d been Lucky’s friend since I could remember. He and I were almost the same age. There was a picture of me astride Lucky’s back in Bob’s living room when I was about three years old. Lucky was sleek and handsome in that picture. He was a young strong dog with clear eyes and no white around his muzzle. He’d had a white muzzle since I could remember and I couldn’t remember when the picture was taken.
Bob looked concerned, too. “He’s really slowed down a lot this summer.” I could see worry and Bob’s voice didn’t have its normal sparkle. “He’s like me; he’s no spring chicken anymore.”
I thought that was an unusual thing for Uncle Bob to say. He was the uncle that never grew up. He acted more like me than most of the guys his age. He was still stronger and tougher than almost anybody I knew. He didn’t seem old to me.
Bob lived in Virginia and I didn’t see him that often. At Christmas, we went up to Roanoke to visit and, when we pulled up into the yard, I noticed Lucky didn’t come out to greet us like always. In our family, we didn’t knock at the door of certain friends and family. We just walked in like we lived there. That same close group did the same when they came to our house. If we’d have knocked, Bob would have thought something was wrong.
Bob was at the sink when I walked in, I came in first. “Where’s Lucky?” I asked.
I saw Bob’s shoulders rise as he took a breath. “I had to put Lucky down last week.” He didn’t turn around. I was 14 and past crying, or so I thought. My eyes got wet and I choked it back. I wanted to cry but I didn’t. Mama and Daddy had gone into the living room and I realized they already knew. I guessed that Bob had wanted to be the one that told me.
He turned around. His face was a little twisted, his eyes looked a little wet, but he wasn’t crying. “Dogs don’t live as long as we do, Dick. He got to where he couldn’t get around and I had to put him down. He wouldn’t have wanted to live if he couldn’t get around. You know how he was.” His voice sounded strange but he still looked strong. His eyes were getting red. “I know it hurts to know he’s gone but you just have to think back to all the fun we had; that’s what I do. He was a great dog and we’ll miss him.”
Bob was a great cook and he’d fixed a beef roast for us. It was a great meal, but I didn’t eat much. I kept feeling guilty that I hadn’t savored the time I’d spent with Lucky more. I tried to remember how I’d felt as a kid, lying out in Bob’s yard with Lucky one spring day. I remembered how he’d brought back the first duck I ever shot, but I couldn’t remember it good enough to make me feel good. I wondered if Bob could remember better than me.
That was over 30 years ago, and several years later, Uncle Bob moved to High Point. He slowed down a lot in the last years. Instead of him taking me, now I took him. We ate lunch together. We dove hunted and fished. We shot clay pigeons and hunted ducks, though not the kind of hunting he’d dragged me through when I was a boy. Now we hunted like gentlemen, from blinds with guides, and had breakfast in the blind.
I remembered the lesson I learned when Lucky died. I savored every moment with Bob. We stood together with surf rods in our hands and watched the sun go down. We savored cigars on the front porch in summer. Bob told jokes and cracked himself up. As he told the joke, he would snicker so hard I couldn’t understand the punch line, but it didn’t make any difference since he’d told me the same joke before.
I savored those moments. I tried to burn them into my mind, remembering the frustration I’d felt when Lucky died.
Thanksgiving morning last year, Bob’s son, David, called and wanted me to go over and check on him. He was supposed to show up on Wednesday evening for Thanksgiving dinner and they couldn’t get him on the phone. I told them I’d run over and make sure he was all right. I knew when I hung up what I was going to find. I’d called on Wednesday morning and left him a message about having lunch. When he didn’t call back, I was sure he’d already left for Virginia. Bob never missed a chance for lunch.
As I write this it’s a rainy, grey, May morning. It’s been a few years since I found Bob. I truly did savor the times we had together. I think about them and laugh, I tell Bob stories to my friends. I put him in my column every once in a while, remembering how he loved to read about himself in the paper.
Somehow, on a rainy morning, all that doesn’t seem to help. In fact, thinking about Bob in the best times makes me miss old Lucky 13, too. There is one thing that does help. My preacher says that in Heaven, you have your heart’s desire. I’ve heard it said that dogs don’t go to heaven but I think my preacher’s right and I fully expect to see Bob and old Lucky waiting when I get there.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several NC newspapers as well as national magazines and websites. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or offtheporchmedia.com