Traveling Laddie's Road
By Dianne M. Sever
First appeared in Collie Expressions magazine, December 1996
Twenty-three years ago, on a gentleman's farm in Western Pennsylvania, a magnificent Collie was laid to rest in the cool shade of the apple orchard. At 18 he had slipped away in his sleep on the kitchen floor of my great aunt and uncle's farmhouse, but Laddie has remained chasing a group of laughing children around the lilac bush in my memory to this day. Laddie came to the farm before I was born. His owner was moving to Florida and was unable to take him along. "He's five years old, but a damn good dog", was all that the owner told my Aunt Mary Grace and Uncle Francis. When you own sixty-six acres of farmland offerings of dogs and cats are an everyday occurrence and easily declined. Luckily for me my aunt and uncle had had several Collies over the years and decided Laddie should make his home with them. "Damn good dog" was an understatement. Laddie was phenomenal. Uncle Francis raised a small herd of Herefords among the other animals that populated the farm, and they were Laddie's charges. I can remember sitting around the kitchen table as dinner was ending and Uncle Francis would lean back, slap his knees and say "O.K. Laddie, time to go to work." Laddie would jump up from his braided rug and push open the door of the screened porch. Seconds later we would see him crawling under the hot fence and running across the pasture. Several minutes would pass until we heard his barking and Uncle Francis would rise from the table and start for the barn to carry out his end of the bargain. Once my uncle had the cows locked safely in the barn for the night, he and Laddie would head back to the house, side by side, until they came to the yard gate. Laddie would again crawl under the fence and run to the back door. Grabbing the wooden thread spool attached to the screen door for his convenience, he would stand patiently holding the door open for his master to enter, then he would run into the pantry where his dinner awaited him.
As young children, Laddie's feats did not amaze us, that was just Laddie. We recognized him as our equal. After all, weren't we all scampering out the kitchen door together when Aunt Mary Grace hollered, "You kids get outside to play, "quickly followed by, "and that means you too, Laddie!"?
We would pour out onto the lawn with Laddie hot on our heels, down to the springhouse where we were safe from adults. The springhouse was a wonderful haven. Shadowed by the apple orchard where Laddie would later rest, its cool wet atmosphere would almost call to you on lazy summer days. We had a tea set and blackboard, and numerous toy trucks and tractors, down there that would keep us busy. It was at the springhouse with that blackboard that I would work for hours teaching Laddie to speak. And I don't mean barking on command. I was seven years old and for all I had witnessed, Laddie was smarter than my five-year-old brother was. So, I reasoned that if Bobby could talk, so could Laddie, and I set out to teach him. As I think back on this, I not only wanted him to talk to me, but I was assuming he could read. Not a far stretch of the imagination for a seven-year-old who was spending another magical summer in the country!
He would sit forever as I attempted to drum the English language into his brain. Needless to say, he never did talk to me verbally, but he spoke volumes just by living. When Laddie began to move into senior citizenry, he once again proved his ability to grasp the world around him. Uncle Francis's grape arbor was off limits to everyone. If you went near it he would threaten to spank you to within an inch of your life, then would proceed to explain that really good grapes like his were for wine not for eating! So, we all, kids and adults alike, would make a wide arc around that arbor to avoid the possibility of him making good on his threat. Laddie must have filed this behavior away and as he aged he spent more and more time lying in the shadows of that arbor. He was never rude about it; he would greet you at the gate like any perfect gentleman and socialize for awhile, then disappear into the arbor for a nap.
Only other Collie people could understand where this dog resides within my heart and memory. And only you can appreciate what a tremendous gift my family received from that stranger. Over the years many Collies have shared their lives with our family, each of them possessing their own wonderfully different personality and yet, each of them somehow fitting in just where you needed them. And though every one of them deserves mention as my unsung heroes, I would have to say that Laddie would hold the title if I must choose only one. Perhaps it is because he is wrapped snugly in the sun filled days of my childhood memories, or maybe he really was larger than life. Maybe he truly was the most beautiful. Maybe he was the most intelligent. I believe he was all of those things and more. I believe it with the unwavering faith of that seven-year-old down by the springhouse so long ago.
Uncle Francis, Laddie and the farm are gone now. But as I look back on the inspiration Laddie has given to me throughout my life just by letting me love him, I have to credit and thank him for the wonderful friends I've loved along his road. Most assuredly Joyce Avery; you are my teacher, my friend, my sounding board and my logic; thank you specifically for Aimee, Kayleigh, Delaney, Panda, Pinkie, Brenna, Corey, Conor, Chance and Hogan. But moreover, for creating this family I hold so dear. They are all treasured. I hope and pray that Jodevin will prove to be even half the kennel Ravette was and will produce dogs that build the heart warming memories for others that "the gang" have given to me.
And to you sir, whoever you are and wherever your life took you all those years ago, thank you for entrusting us with that "damn good dog, " for he has led us down a brilliantly colorful road filled with hopes and dreams that have spanned generations.