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“What’s this picture of, Grandma? It’s all black and white!” Andy picked up the photo album he’d been looking at and brought it over to where I was sitting. I smiled a little bit at his excitement about seeing a picture that wasn’t in color. Teenagers these days. I put on my reading glasses as he pointed. I squinted at the grainy black and white photo, trying unsuccessfully to see the image on the paper as clearly as I saw it in my mind.
“That’s me and Lucky.”
“Well, Andy, he was probably one of the best friends I ever had. That dog saved me on more occasions than I can remember.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a long story.”
“That’s okay. I’ve got time.” Andy sat down on the couch.
“Alright then.” I took a deep breath, and started the story of my guardian angel: Lucky.
Lucky’s name was a product of my father’s love of irony. When the mangled heap of fur appeared on our doorstep, my father chuckled and christened the starving creature “Lucky.” My younger sister Bridget and I were both animal lovers, and we made it our goal to make this little creature live up to his name. My mother donated some old blankets and table scraps to our cause. Soon the lump of fur began to look like the German shepherd it was. By the time spring ended and school had let out for the summer, the young creature was happily following us around, healthy and strong. Before the summer had ended, Lucky had proven himself to be an invaluable companion.
It was the first week of summer break, and Bridget and I were enjoying our freedom. There had been an unusual amount of rain the past few days, and when it stopped we had been anxious to get out of the house. We decided to go to the top of the little cliff that was just through the forest behind our house. We’d been this way a thousand times, and the carelessness that comes with familiarity was our downfall.
There was a shortcut up to the top which bypassed the thick brambles of the forest. It was a narrow path that stood along the edge of the river, which was a sheer 30 foot drop below. I went first, with Bridget behind me and Lucky behind her. I walked across the path, walking slowly so I wouldn’t trip and fall. I should have noticed that the rain had made the usually hard-packed dirt soft, allowing the stones that were mixed in to slip. I turned around to warn Bridget, just in time to her fall.
I reached out, managing to grab hold of her hand as she fell. The relief I felt was short lived. I was standing on a patch of mud that refused to stop me from slipping, and suddenly we both were falling. Panic was replaced by confusion as I realized we weren’t falling, but we were instead swaying dangerously above the river. I looked up and saw that Lucky had managed to get a mouthful of the bottom of my dress in his mouth. Even today it amazes me that he was able to hold our weight. With Lucky’s help we managed to pull ourselves back onto the ledge. We crawled back along the ledge, vowing to be more vigilant the next time we went that way.
Lucky went everywhere with us after that day. My father was so grateful to the dog that he allowed us to move him from the barn into the house. He happily settled in, glad to be with the people he cared about. I know it made me feel better to have him nearby; every time I was having a nightmare, he somehow seemed to know, and he would nuzzle my hand, letting me know that he would do his best to protect me from whatever I was afraid of.
Lucky proved himself again the next summer. Our parents had brought me and Bridget along on a trip into town. Bridget had gone with my mother to buy some groceries, and I had gone along with my father while he was putting some money in the bank. Lucky had come with us, mostly because my mother didn’t want him to get into other people’s food. I was sitting on a sofa inside the bank, Lucky at my feet, panting because of the heat. That’s when we heard the horses.
I didn’t think anything of it until the horses stopped outside the bank. Being the animal lover I was, I peeked out the window to see what breed the horses were. And that’s when I noticed the men riding the horses had guns.
Before I had a chance to shout a warning, the three men were inside the bank. The tallest of the men waved his gun around yelling, “This is a hold up!”
I quickly hid next to the chair on the side opposite the gunmen. A few others in the bank had the same idea, but most of the people were too far away to hide behind anything.
The gunmen walked up to the teller, holding out a bag. The two other bandits aimed their guns around threateningly, aiming at random people, basically doing their best to look like scumbags. Once the bag was full, they turned to leave. They stopped right before they went out the door, and I heard one of the shorter ones curse. I looked out the window, and saw the sheriff and his deputy were standing right outside.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I remembered thinking, “The sheriff is smart. He’ll get these guys.” Unfortunately, I was so preoccupied with the men outside the window that I didn’t see the tall bandit come up behind me. He put his arm around my neck and his gun to my head, and that’s when I knew I was in trouble.
“Quick! Grab a hostage!” He shouted to his accomplices. I was scared that one of them would take my father, but he was a rather intimidating man, and the two bandits decided the small man who worked as a teller and another young patron would be much easier to handle.
They dragged us outside. The sheriff and his deputy raised their guns, and I saw the worried look they got in their eyes when they saw that the bandits had hostages. I knew that there was no way they would shoot, especially the deputy. He was new, and even I could see how scared he was.
“Com’on now, let’s not be hurtin’ anyone.” The sheriff stated, gazing coolly into the eyes of the tall bandit.
The tall bandit sneered. “Fat chance, old man.” He grabbed me and swung me onto one of the horses, his gun on my head and his eyes on the sheriff. The other two followed suit. “Now, if any of ya’ll decide to follow us, you’ll be bringing these people back in a bag, ya understand?” As he stared down the sheriff, I suddenly remembered Lucky. I discreetly pulled out the dog whistle I had bought a few weeks ago and blew into it. Just as the bandit was about to swing up behind me, Lucky came running out of the bank.
“Get him, Lucky!” I yelled, pointing at the bandit.
Lucky growled and jumped, biting down on the man’s leg. He shouted in surprise, and I knocked the gun out of his hand as his attention turned to the dog.
This gave the sheriff and deputy the chance they needed to jump and arrest the other two thieves. They grabbed the tall one and handcuffed him as I pulled Lucky away and calmed him down. My father came running outside, hugging me and giving the most generous praise to the brave German shepherd. Lucky was given the best meal his dog heart could want when we returned home that night.
But not even Lucky could stop what happened that winter. It was cold, much colder than I’d ever seen before or since. There was a horrible case of the flu going around, and much to my mother’s grief, Bridget and I both became ill. I was fine, but the sickness refused to leave us alone. Bridget lived just long enough for a final Christmas. Then, she left a gaping hole in our hearts.
After Bridget died I was stricken with what I now know to be depression. Everything seemed like it was tinged with grey, like life was just vanishing into nothing but a grey glob. But once again, the wonderful Lucky saved me. When spring came around, he refused to let me stay inside. He would grab my sleeve and tug until I got up and played with him. Although it irritated me at the time, I know now that I probably would’ve simply faded away into a washed out shell of a person, lifeless, uncaring, unhappy, and alone. But that brilliant dog brought me back from the edge of oblivion. If it hadn’t been for Lucky, I’m certain I wouldn’t have been able to go on living after losing Bridget.
As time went on, I began to shed the burden the tragedy had laid on me. I didn’t forget her, but I wasn’t reduced to a sobbing, inconsolable child every time I saw something small that reminded me of her. And I had Lucky to thank for that.
Lucky grew older and so did I. It seemed like I had gone from being a kid one day to being an adult the next. I went from running through streams with my little sister and my dog to walking through the town with my friends, hoping to catch the eye of some good man. I wasn’t too worried about finding a man. I was more concerned with helping my aging mother keep up with the chores around the house. And while I was busy with that, Lucky once again came to my rescue.
There was a fair in town that summer, and I was going to meet up with some friends who had been out of town for a while. Lucky, of course, trotted along behind me, curious about the smell of the strange creatures in the pens.
I was sitting down on a bench waiting for my friends when he walked by. He had a small bag of candy in his hand and Lucky decided he wanted it. He tackled the man and grabbed the bag, happily walking back over to the bench and tearing the bag open. I jumped up, horrified, and ran over to the man.
“Oh, I’m sorry. He gets a little excited about food…” I reached down to help the man up.
“Oh, it’s alright.” The man smiled. “I’m sure he didn’t mean anything bad by it.”
I frowned as he dusted off his uniform. I racked my brain. Where did I know him from?
Then I remembered. “You’re that deputy!” I blurted, then tried to think of a way to explain my outburst. I didn’t need to though.
“You’re that lady those bandits were trying to take, aren’t you?” he said. I blushed under his stare. He smiled. “So, what’s your name, Miss?”
I couldn’t help but return his smile. “Annie. And yours?”
“Henry. So, are you waiting for someone?”
“Well, sort of. Some friends of mine from a while back. In fact, that’s them coming over here.” I pointed over his shoulder.
The two of them came up to us, giving me a strange look the whole time. One of them, Janice, grabbed my arm and pulled me just out of earshot. “So, who’s your friend?” She said, a sort of patronizing smile struggling to break through her lips.
“It’s okay, Annie, we understand. We’ll meet up with you later, alright?” And without another word, she turned around, collected my other friend, and walked away.
Henry and I had a great time together that night at the fair. We got along really well, and he even had Lucky’s approval. For the rest of the year, we became closer and closer. Lucky helped me again. Just as his nuzzling had driven away nightmares, it drove away the fear and nervousness I felt about being with Henry. Two years later, we were married.
“Wait, Henry? As in Grandpa Henry?” Andy asked, breaking his enthralled silence.
“Yes, Andy, you know that young man as Grandpa Henry. And you probably know our firstborn son, too.”
“You mean my dad?”
“Yes, I mean Mark. And now let me tell you how he fits into this story, and what he has to do with Lucky’s final gift to me.”
Mark was nine months old at the time. Henry’s parents had passed away, and he inherited their old farm. We’d been living there for four years when the fire happened.
Nothing had seemed wrong. But what we didn’t know was that one of the farmhands Henry had hired to help around the place had left a lantern lit in the kitchen when he left that night. Something happened and the lantern was knocked over. The fire spread from the kitchen to the living room to the stairs, and suddenly our sleep was pierced by Lucky’s sharp whines coming from the foot of our bed.
Henry jumped out of bed and ran to try and fight the fire. Smoke had filled the room, and I found myself unable to see him. My mind, still slow from drowsiness, conjured up the image of the baby, asleep in his room down the hall. I felt my way out of the room, ducking down to try to see and breathe through the smoke.
I didn’t know I was going the wrong way, and that if I had continued until I found the end of the hall the flames would have separated me from Mark’s room. But Lucky did. He grabbed my sleeve with his teeth, tugging me towards the other end of the hall. I grabbed Lucky’s collar, and he lead me to my baby. I scooped Mark up in my arms, trying to shield him from the smoke.
I went back out in the hall, Mark in my arms. But I didn’t get far. The flames had climbed to the top of the stairs. To try and go through them was suicide. I backed into Mark’s room, looking desperately for a way to get out. All there I could find was a window, but I knew there was no way I could jump that far without killing or seriously hurting myself or Mark.
So I started to knot lengths of clothes and blankets together. I tied a basket to one end, and set Mark in it. I went to the window, and lowered him to the ground as the fire came through the doorway and started the room on fire.
I felt better knowing that at least Mark would be okay, but I was still in danger. I looked around for something to tie the multicolored cloth rope to, but the only furniture that could hold my weight was near the door and on fire. It was beginning to look like my only option was to jump, but I knew that was probably pointless. It was a good 40 foot drop to the ground!
Then I felt a tug on the rope. I looked behind me to see Lucky with the end in his mouth. He started nudging me towards the window. As I realized what the fantastic little hero was thinking, I began to cry. He continued to nudge me, and his eyes told me to go.
He braced as I started to climb down the rope. It seemed like forever, but finally I reached the ground. I looked up through tear filled eyes as he started to yelp, begging for help that would never come. I saw the flame licking out the open window, and knew in my heart that I had just lost one of my biggest heroes.
I picked up Mark and pressed my face to his, trying not to be completely overwhelmed with grief. Henry came running around the side of the house, his skin turned a charcoal color from the ash. Apparently he’d been on the other side of the house and had the same idea I did, except he got out before the flame reached him.
When the firemen came and put the fire out, we took what was left of Lucky and buried him in a small clearing in the woods where he had first saved me. I spent most of the next few days crying. I didn’t just lose a dog. I had lost a guardian angel.
Andy sat there, quiet, as he mulled over what I had told him. “Grandma, Lucky sounds like he was one good dog. I wish I could have met him.”
I smiled, the ghosts of tears struggling for freedom from my eyes. “He was Andy. He was.”
He looked at the photo album. “And the picture?”
“That was taken at the fair, actually. The day Lucky stole your grandfather’s candy.” I smiled, then looked up as someone knocked.
“Hey, Mom. Thanks for watching Andy for us. I hope he wasn’t too much trouble.” Mark said as he opened the door.
“Oh, he was no trouble at all. You take care now, you hear?”
“Thanks for the story Grandma. Maybe I’ll have to come back next week and hear another one.” Andy said as he grabbed his coat. “Bye!”
“Good bye, dear.”
I almost laughed as Andy’s voice came through the closing door. I didn’t need to worry about my story not having an effect on him.
As he and his father walked away, he innocently asked, “Hey Dad, can we get a puppy?”