I was strolling through the campground with Ryder when she ran up to me. “Are you Pam,” she asked. I told her yes and she asked if I remembered her. Of course. Olivia. Her family camped near us last year and she fell in love with the Red Dogs. Her brother Aidan also liked our dogs, but his level of interest was nowhere near to Olivia’s. She’d show up on her pink Barbie bike every morning to say hello to the boys. During the day she’d yell “Hi Ryder, hi Gumbo,” as she rode the campground circuit. Olivia knew every dog’s name in the campground, but she was especially in love with Gumbo. She fussed over him every time she saw him, which was several times a day. Gumbo adored all children, but it was easy to tell that he returned her love equally. When it was time for Olivia and her family to leave, she came with her mother and Aiden to say goodbye. Olivia hugged Ryder briefly, and then she turned to embrace Gumbo. “I’ll miss you so much,” she said as she wrapped her arms around my big Red Dog. Gumbo leaned in, put his head on her shoulder and wrapped his paw around her. Olivia’s mom and I grabbed for our phones to take a picture—and found we’d forgotten them. We laughed about missing the “Kodak moment.” I told her not to worry, as we’d both be back next year and we could get a picture then because Gumbo remembers everyone he meets.
A year later she was much taller with a regular bike and French braids in her hair. Olivia’s Barbie era was clearly over. She asked me the question I knew was coming. “Where’s Gumbo?” Olivia looked me straight in the eyes the way children do, her gaze demanding my honesty. She knew our routine; Ben walked Ryder and I walked Gumbo. “I’m so sorry to tell you Olivia, but Gumbo got really sick and he died,” I said. I could see her taking it in. “What made him sick,” she asked. “He had cancer, and it was really bad. We couldn’t do anything to make it better. Gumbo loved you a lot Olivia.” Her eyes softened. She straddled her bike “I’ll miss him,” she said. “I bet you miss him a lot too,” and she rode off. She intuitively knew to leave; I had a hard time talking about what happened to my beloved boy without getting weepy. Olivia is right; indeed I do miss him. I always will. He was a special soul.
Olivia is still a fixture at our campground’s dog happy hour. Daily at 4:00 we meet in a vacant lot. We’ve been doing that for the last several years. The dogs all know when it’s time to go play; they pester their owners at around 3:45. There’s Dottie, Chloe, Jameson, Bob, Katie, Bo, Ryder and Olivia’s dog Tucker, a busy border collie with an abnormally long tongue. Olivia is in the middle of the dogs as she always is. Katie and Bob the Springer Spaniels are Olivia’s current favorites, but all the dogs sense her energy and mob her, trying to climb into her lap in one big doggie heap. They know she has a big heart for every dog, old or young. Olivia wraps her arms around Katie, just as she did with Gumbo.
Patrick and Bethany are Olivia’s and Aiden’s parents. They are endowed with endless good humor and a great deal of patience, necessary for living with two animal-obsessed kids. While Olivia is pretty much a dog person, Aiden is a quintessential critter collector. He is always poking around the shoreline and the bushes looking for something interesting. He is in his element in Florida, AKA home to every reptile and bug common to a sub-tropical area. Every time I saw him he had a gecko, toad, frog, hermit crab, blue crab or enormous bug. Bethany just rolls her eyes. She’s used to a house full of Aiden’s “pets.” Aiden’s dad Patrick is an entrepreneur; he’s had several businesses and Aiden shows every intention of following in his dad’s footsteps.
Aiden buddied up with another kid in the campground and started a pet walking business. It started simply. “I’ll walk your dog for a dollar,” he offered. He mined Olivia’s connections for his initial customer list. Olivia likes to walk dogs too, but she’d never ask to be paid. That worked for a week or so, then Aiden’s business partner left with his family. Overburdened, Aiden tried raising his fees. Others in the campground balked at paying $2 for a loop around the park. Business fell off except for the loyal customers at the RedDog RV. Undeterred, he tried offering to take people’s trash for a buck. Aiden is personable, fearless and understands the need to pivot when he gets “no” for an answer. Finally, it was time for the family to leave so Aiden was forced to close up shop. Watch out for this kid; someday he’ll be working a business angle near you. When Bethany and Patrick left, they thanked us for being so kind to their kids. We had no idea we had been burdened. It doesn’t take much effort to interact with a kid, really, and they do love to be recognized.
One morning Ryder and I ran into Aiden, who was wearing a long face. “Tomorrow is going to be the worst day of my life,” he said. I asked what was so bad about tomorrow and he told me they were leaving. I told him I’d miss him, and that we’d see him next year. He took off before anything unduly mushy could happen. Then I saw Olivia. We said our goodbyes, then she gave me her direct gaze. “Ben said you’re getting a new dog.” I allowed as we were. She asked if I had a picture. I showed it to her. “What’s his name,” she asked. I told him I didn’t know has we hadn’t met officially. I promised her as soon as we knew his name, I’d let her mother know. She gave me a few names to try, then she hopped in the RV with the rest of the family and was gone.
So, now you know. I’m too lonely without a dog by my side. Ryder tries his best to fill the gap, but his sun rises and sets in Ben’s corner. I need a new running buddy; indeed I do. Gumbo would like that, I think. Olivia will be excited to meet him next year, and Aiden will figure out a way to make some coinage off the new dog.
3 thoughts on “Indeed I Do”
Oh, my, this got to me! I miss a dog. Lost mine several years back and now recently we have cats, who are much like dogs in their personalities, but still not. My heart to you and Ben. Ryder is a sweetie, and I’m sure he will enjoy a new buddy of his type. It’s marvelous the friendships you develop with the kids. I like those relationships too, but no kids in our world these days. How fun the life you lead, and all the babies you’ve loved. Excited to learn of your new child! Best!!!!
Loved this story!! You have a knack for capturing the essence!
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