We are just wrapping up the holiday season. It means a variety of traditions for families. In my household, it means members traveling from far and wide to celebrate Thanksgiving, from Texas and South Carolina, as well as from across the state, all to celebrate Thanksgiving with my 96-year-old grandmother. It is also a time for me to get away with a couple of college friends to go hunting.
I have two dogs – Star (the mother) and Maggie (from Star’s first and only litter). Star is pushing 9-years-old – aged in yellow lab years. Maggie has just turned 7-years-old, yet still manages to be agile and youthful.
While my friends and I plan on deer hunting, I take Maggie and Star to bird hunt around the deer hunting season.
This year, on the first day of our hunt, the two dogs and I went out. Star comes from a great hunting background out of Minnesota – her inborn instincts have always amazed me. From the time that she was a pup, she knew what, when and how to hunt. Maggie, on the other hand, has always been more of a happy, go-lucky dog, letting her mother do all of the work.
Off we went that particular day. Star’s right shoulder has slowed her down – something I worry about – to the point that I wonder if I should even take her hunting. Her face has grown white with all the graying. She also suffers from seizures that leave her exhausted.
We headed into some tall grass. It soon became apparent that it is too much for Star, and she began to follow in my footsteps, rather than leading the way. Maggie, on the other hand, takes over, roaming back and forth, yet not getting out too far. Once in a while, Star will dart out, sniff around, and get very excited when we flush a bird. She then falls back behind me.
I worry about my grandmother. This last year has seen a decline in her health. About as frequently as not, I find her “resting” in bed in her room at the assisted living facility, rather than up doing something active. Her memory certainly has deteriorated. She takes many of her meals in her room now.
Before Thanksgiving, I gave a warning to the family, “Mamah has really transitioned,” a nice way of saying that she has gotten older. We talked about taking a plate to her at the assisted living facility, rather than trying to get her to come over to my house. Thanksgiving Day came. I sent family over to see if they could get her to come over for lunch. I was not optimistic. But low and behold, she made it. She spent not only lunch but well into the evening with us. We watched the Dallas Cowboys together.
I know that there were many times that she could not hear the conversations. I know as the day wore on that she grew tired and perhaps a little confused. But it was a great gathering of family, with five generations in my home.
The day after my hunt with the dogs, I anticipated that Star would be so stiff that I would have to carry her up and down the stairs. To my surprise, though stiff, Star’s big brown eyes shone with excitement when she saw me put on my boots to head out into the field. Though I had to lift her into the bed of my ATV, she was more than accepting of the assistance.
Before I left on my hunting trip on the Monday after Thanksgiving, I stopped by to see my grandmother. We talked, and then she said, “Wasn’t Thanksgiving wonderful?” I guess that I was very surprised that she even remembered the event, but she did. It had made her happy. All of us were happy to get together and to see her, but our happiness was also in seeing each other.
Sometimes, it is easy to write off the old, whether it is your grandmother or your dog. Perhaps we figure they are too old to enjoy or participate in what is going on. But they represent our memories, a different time and an important cog in our development.
We have to remember what they have taught us. Star taught Maggie how to hunt and taught me how wonderful a time can be between a man and his dog. Mamah taught my family how important it is to get together, how to put on a Thanksgiving meal, and that the necessity of traveling a great distance was no excuse to miss Thanksgiving dinner.
Though Star and Mamah’s roles are different now than they were when they were younger, they are no less important. Though they may not be as active or are more limited, it does not diminish the enjoyment that they have of the occasion. Indeed, just their roles have changed.
I need to remember and appreciate all of the hunting that Star has led me on and all of the family celebrations that Mamah has given us. And now I need to lead Star on the hunt, and let her enjoy it the best that she can, and to lead the family celebrations for my grandmother, and let her enjoy them in the best way that she can.
As we leave the holiday season, let us not forget the important roles that our mothers, grandmothers, fathers, grandfathers and, yes, even our old dogs, have played in our lives. Let us carry forward the spirit of celebration that they have brought to our families.