The dog is an original pound puppy, kind of ratty and worn, with some of the paint worn off his eyes, his nose, once soft vinyl over fabric, rubbed down (and since chewed) to the shiny brown plastic core, and the strings that gave his paws shape long since broken and lost. Despite these flaws, or perhaps because of them, my son loves the dog. So do I. His name is Oliver, and I was five when I gave him his first hug, named him, and told him he was my puppy, forever.
Oliver was a Christmas gift from my maternal grandfather, and he came to me during a bit rough period. My grandfather had died only a few months before, and it was everyone’s first Christmas without him there. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for my grandmother, whose entire world revolved around my grandfather, to even focus on minor things like finding gifts for my sister and I, but her choice was perfect; I fell absolutely in love with my little grey puppy, rejecting the factory name for him (Cooler) in order to name him after a friend-of-the-family’s-dog (who was named for a disastrous first car ride in which it puked…all-o-ver).
Over the next couple of decades, Oliver remained a constant in my life. He regularly slept in my bed throughout most of my childhood, and into my teenage years, before taking an honoured spot on a shelf nearby. Still, whenever I was sick or hurt (or sometimes hungover) he somehow crept back into the bed…even into my early twenties. There was something about having him there that made things better; he made me feel that comfortable, safe, cared-for feeling that I felt when I would get sick as a kid and my mother would watch over me.
Maybe that’s what I’m hoping my son finds in Oliver: a constant friend and companion, and comforting hand on his back when he needs it most. Maybe one day he’ll even give Oliver, tired and bedraggled from too much love, to his own child, with the same hope. I’m not sure it’s probable—Oliver can only handle so much—but it makes me smile (a little wistfully, perhaps) to think that something I loved so much will endure, and make my sons and grandchildren as happy as he made me.