Sunday, December 21, 2014
I was standing at the top of the stairs leading from Rainbow Bridge with Taser and Daddy. We were talking about how unfair it was that Taser, two weeks after his brother passed to the Immortal Side of the Bridge, had joined him. They were both very worried about their parents. I told them that they could skip Taser’s wing fitting for now and Daddy could take him right to Tommy’s house so they could check on their Mom. I had to stay. I had another swearing in to perform.
The black cloud of tears from Taser’s passing had cleared but I was quickly in the shadow of what I had thought was another cloud again. I looked up to see it. Instead of a cloud I saw a large black man holding a saxophone.
I asked him what he was doing there and he motioned to the small dog beginning to climb the stairs. The Big Man then put the saxophone to his lips and began to play the solo from Jungleland and I knew there was only one dog who could merit such treatment. One of my oldest and dearest pals, Otis Campbell, had crossed the River of Life.
Halfway through the solo I could see him clearly, as he took the steps perfectly in harmony with the music. Around me hundreds of dogs ran down the hills to see him, all stopping and raising one paw in tribute. As the last notes blew from the Big Man’s horn Otis reached the top of the stairs. We embraced, I swore him in, the other dogs cheered, Lady Bug fitted him for his wings and gave him his first lesson.
When he landed I asked him what had happened. “Liver cancer,” he said sadly. He told me how hard he had fought it to keep it hidden from his parents, but we can only reject the Bridge’s siren song for so long, and Otis slipped away Thursday night.
“I was an only dog and my parents were only parents,” he said with a tear in his eye. “I do worry about them.” I promised we would go to Tommy’s to check on them but first Ladybug had to do teach him how to fly and then we had one stop to make (which would give Taser and Daddy more time to check on their parents.)
Once Otis was done with his flying lesson I took him by the paw and we both flew over Mount Pilot and softly landed in a small town. We were next to a barber shop. Otis turned, read the name on the glass, and his tail began to wag excitedly. “Foley, we are in Mayberry!” he said.
“That’s right,” I said. “Now have a seat on the bench here while I go get two bottles of orange pop.”
I walked into Floyd’s, got a couple of bottles, opened them, went outside, and sat next to Otis on the park bench. He took a long drink of pop while looking around his beloved town square. We then sniffed the smell of gin and Otis the town drunk stumbled up to us. He looked down at Otis and asked “Who are you?”
“I am Otis Campbell,” my friend said.
“Now wait a minute,” the drunk said. “I’m Otis Campbell,” he said pointing at his broad chest and almost falling on top of us.
“No I’m Otis Campbell!” my friend said, standing on his back legs.
The drunk man looked confused. “Then who am I?” he asked.
“Maybe you’re Barney Fife,” I said.
“Barney Fife,” the man said stumbling backwards. “Well I better go see if Andy needs me,” and he shuffled off to the Sheriff’s office while Otis and I reminisced about the sixties when alcoholism was funny.
Otis took another long drink then put the bottle between his legs. “Hey Foley, the Pope was right, we must be in heaven.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“My nuts grew back!”
He was very happy. I didn’t have the heart to yell him that they were useless, like baubles on a Christmas tree. His nuts made him happy and that made me happy.
I looked up and saw a very agitated Barney Fife walking towards us. “Are you the two dogs who told Otis Campbell that he was me?” he asked, his big eyes bugging out of his head.
“I’m Otis Campbell,” Otie said.
“Now don’t give me no back talk,” Barney said. “We got no loitering in Mayberry now you two move along.”
“No sir,” I told him. “Otis here is a verified business owner.”
“I am?” he asked.
I reached under my robe. “I procured this in anticipation of your arrival,” I told Otis. “It is the deed to Walker’s drug store. You are the owner now Otie, and all your friends will be coming in for a malted or an ice cream all day long.”
Barney snatched the deed from my hand. “This seems legit but I am going to have to check it out,” he said. He turned his attention to me. “”What about you? You own property here?”
“Of course,” I said. “My family has owned Foley’s Grocery for years.” I pulled out the deed to that too. A skeptical Barney looked it over (and you skeptical humans can too, go Google Mayberry grocery store and you will see it is named Foley’s.)
“Well I don’t like this at all,” Barney said.
“Now Barney you leave those two pup angels alone,” Sheriff Andy, who had sidled up next to us as silent as a lamb, said. Barney started to argue but Andy quieted him. An exasperated Barney stormed off muttering to himself. “Now why don’t you two meet me down at the fishing hole in a spell and we will do see if we can catch some catfish,” Andy said. “You do like catfish don’t you?” We both nodded eagerly and Andy said he’d bring the poles and then sidled off.
I looked up at the sun, enjoying the day, and then heard Otis weeping. “I was so happy and now I’m crying again,” he said.
I put my paw on his shoulder. “It’s a rogue wave of grief,” I told him. “It hits you out of nowhere and suddenly you miss your parents so much it hurts like nothing you ever felt before. They don’t stop until your parents come here, but they do get easier to ride out.”
We were covered in a shadow again and I wondered if another cloud of tears was passing over but it was the Big Man with the saxophone again.
“Wow, there’s something you don’t see every day,” Otis said. I thought he was referring to the Big Man’s bright red suit but Otis corrected that notion by saying: “A black guy in Mayberry. Wow.”
The Big Man began playing the saxophone, and from the mortal side of the Bridge, over the River of Life, over Mount Pilot, and into Mayberry, we could hear our friends singing for Otis.
“Well I came by your page the other day, your mother said you went away
She said there was nothing that I could have done
There was nothing nobody could say
We’ve all known each other ever since we were just puppies
I wished I would have known I wished I could have barked at you
Just to say goodbye Otie C.
Now you hung with me when all the others turned their tails and ran away
We liked the same kibble we liked the same treats we liked the same bones
We told each other that we were the wildest, the wildest dogs that’s ever been
Now I wished you would have told me I wished I could have barked to you
Just to say goodbye Otie C
Now we went runnin in the rain barking about the joy in the world we loved
Now there ain’t nobody nowhere no how gonna ever understand me the way you did
Now you’re up there at Ranbow Bridge somewhere
Sitting on a bench drinking a pop in Mayberry
And if you listen closely you can hear the voices rising
And you'll hear us sing this song
Well if you do you'll know we’re thinking of you and the River of Life in between
And we’re just calling one last time not to ask for prayers
But just to say we miss you baby, good luck goodbye, Otie C”
The Big Man bowed to us and left. Otis and I slipped off the bench and headed for the fishing hole to catch some catfish and keep those rogue waves of grief at bay.