Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Gift

I could not have been more surprised by what I pulled out of my coat pocket that winter night years ago as I sat on the back steps of the old farm house with Norton and Tasha.

(We make a mistake when we underestimate an animal's capacity to love and its desire to express that love.)

Years ago while I was visiting my younger daughter, Margaret, shortly after her second child was born, I became friends with a small dog. She was an affectionate pup with floppy ears and brown eyes that seemed to speak volumes. My granddaughter who was about two years old then had named the dog Norton.

Margaret and her husband were renting an old farm house at the time. I had gone there to help her with the children.

Each night, and sometimes during the day, I would take a break, bundle up, and go outside to sit on the back steps and relax. It wasn't long before Norton the dog and Tasha the cat would appear from out of nowhere to join me and keep me company.

Out there in the cold night the three of us would huddle together like bosom buddies on the back steps of the old farm house. The crisp cold air felt good against my cheeks which were usually flushed from working inside the warm house. In the distance by the barn was the yard light which created an illuminated oasis in the otherwise pitch darkness of the night.

The deep silence of the country intensified the sounds of the night so much that no sound went unnoticed. During my visit a thin crust of snow covered the ground and revealed clumps of brown grass here and there prepared to green up with the arrival of spring.

It will not surprise fellow animal lovers to learn that it felt quite natural to me to talk to Norton and Tasha about all sorts of things out there on the steps in the seclusion of the country.

Norton seemed especially attentive to my every word. She would tip her head from side to side as if to hear me better. She'd wag her tail as if to say she understood what I was talking about. However, Tasha, being an independent cat, would slip off now and then into the night to hunt for field mice, I assumed. This left Norton and me alone together to grow closer to one another.

In no time, a friendship developed between Norton and me. Something magical took over and transformed this dog and this human into kindred spirits who were sharing a small slice of life together. I could have told Norton practically anything. I could have unburdened my soul to this dog, and I swear she would have understood.

One night toward the end of my visit with my daughter and her family, I was sitting outside on the steps with Norton and Tasha when all of a sudden Norton jumped off the steps and ran off toward the barn. She was gone for about 10 minutes.

When Norton returned she hopped up onto the steps alongside me and immediately dropped something into the gaping pocket of my coat. It startled me. What in the world...I thought.

Norton's enthusiasm was obvious as she waited for me to react. Cautiously with my gloves on I reached down into my pocket and pulled the object out. I took it to the light that was pouring through the kitchen window nearby and looked down at what laid in the palm of my hand. I could not have been more surprised by what I saw.

Gradually, as I stood there in the light staring at the object, it occurred to me that this might be a gift from Norton. Perhaps she had given me something she thought, in her doggie mind, I would like and appreciate. I became convinced that it was her way of expressing her affections for me.

When I finally turned around to show Norton my gratitude, I found that the small dog had disappeared into the night.

A day or so later when it was time for me to leave and head home, I said goodbye to Margaret and her family. I said goodbye to Tasha the cat. I said goodbye to the small dog who had given me so much.

I will always treasure the memory of Norton and her humble gift. I will always be grateful for the brief friendship I had with her and the time we spent together on the back steps of the old farm house.

(In case you have not guessed already what it was that Norton dropped in my pocket that night, you can find out by going....Here.)


  1. What a lovely story! I was talking to my friend the other day who had to put her very old and ill cat to sleep. She had of course called her mom to talk to her about it and her mom didn't know how to comfort her. The reason was because her mom cannot understand the connection that many of us feel with animals. I think not being able to experience that is really sad. The connection between you and Norton is really heartwarming. : )

  2. P.S. As for the gift, this really is one of those cases where it is the thought that counts!

  3. Meegan, I have fallen in love with many animals during my lifetime from dogs to cats to birds to even a little betta fish who enjoyed a very long, happy life in a fish bowl on my kitchen counter.

    I, too, think it is sad when a person is not able to experience the love and companionship of a pet, or appreciate the deep love some of us have for our pets.

    Every night our collie listens for my husband's car and when he hears it, he rushes to the garage door and whines to go out and welcome my husband home. My husband loves that.

    Norton's gift to me was very unusual, and, yes, it is the thought that counts in Norton's case. The fact that she dropped it right in my coat pocket still amazes me. Her taste in gifts may not have measured up to human standards, but no one can question her motives and say she was anything other than sincere and thoughtful.

  4. Animals are truly amazing in their capacity humor and help us. I am partial to dogs as pets and the story of Norton is very heart warming indeed. Though it was actually thrust upon me, I am now the proud care taker of a gaggle of domestic geese and some other misfit ducks. They aren't exactly the pets that dogs or cats may be but they do make laugh. I think I'd like to have a small dog such as Norton (mouse not included:-).

  5. What a beautiful story, Susie!
    You have such a way with words, and a capacity to relate to animals with such love.

    I especially liked what you said on my blog about feeling Tootsie's spirit along with you each day. Those are powerful feelings.

    Still, I am very sadened by the passing of my Astro. Every thing, in some way or another, reminds me of him. Today, when I emptied the vaccum cleaner bag, I thought some of his fur might be inside (he was shedding horrible in the end), and instead, there was something sparkley that surfaced once I placed the insides of the bag in the trash. It was almost like fairy dust. It made me think, like you, that maybe Astro's spirit was there with me, even if for only a moment.

  6. Jenni, remind me to tell you about a goose I once knew that tried to take a plug out of me. That is one animal I did not fall in love with,...nor he with me.

    Barb, I am glad you stopped in to read about Norton. I was hoping you would. I bet Astro's spirit is going to be around you for a while longer before he departs completely and heads for his promised land.

  7. I can just see you sitting out there on the back porch with those two animals, and I can even hear your voice. I would like to have been
    there too since I often go out into
    the night to see the moon and the
    stars and listen to the coyotes, and I
    always feel better just the way I do
    when I have read something you have

  8. Hi Sharon, I am so happy you left a comment. You've made my day! You always say such nice things to me.

    To my other readers, Sharon has been a dear friend of mine for nearly 30 years. We live hundreds of miles apart, but that doesn't hamper our friendship any.

    Sharon is working on her grandmother's biography. I have been encouraging her to establish a blog and share some of her writings with other people here in blogland. I hope she does.

  9. Just wanted to say hello, and wish Sarah a happy birthday!

    I noticed that two of your favorite books are Grapes of Wrath and Diary of Ann Frank, ones which I dearly love as well.

    Be well.

  10. Great Story! Thank you *S*

  11. Just wanted to say hi susie!

    I finally learned how to post a picture, and have one of my beloved Astro up if you are interested.

    Happy March lst!

  12. What a life you have, full of family and good memories. I was wondering... do you have any siblings?

  13. Hi Anon, I am glad you stopped by. Do I have any siblings? Well, yes, and I plan to write an entire book about her here at my blog. (wink....wink)