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.)