I guess memories are what the Fourth of July is all about in a way. After all, the holiday both commemorates the birth of our nation and celebrates those who have worked and fought to make it free.
But that's not all.
For me, the day resonates with a whole range of childhood remembrances, starting with family picnics and fireworks-watching when I was young, and progressing through those days when I, like all adolescent boys, was determined to blow some portion of my anatomy into smithereens via the injudicious use of death-dealing mini-munitions like cherry bombs and M80s.
Happily, I got past that period in my life with all ten toes and fingers intact, though like many reformed criminals, I have become an annoying nag when it comes to the use of fireworks, both legal and otherwise, by others. Even my spouse, who is generally pretty darn safety minded has fallen afoul of my uber-chicken concerns.
She: Here kids, these sparklers are pretty. Just be careful.
Me: HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND? WHY DON'T YOU JUST GIVE THOSE INNOCENT CHILDREN WHITE-HOT WELDING RODS INSTEAD?
...and so on.
Our family Fourth of July celebrations have produced a lot of memories over the years, and a lot of great stories, too. But I was reminded of one extra-special tale just this past weekend when chatting with some old friends and neighbors who had dropped by our front-porch festivities on the Fourth.
It's a story about a dog. A dog named Bo.
Bo was one of those dogs who was simply made for the movies. A little white-and-black terrier of some sort, he was cute, frisky and a friend to every adult, kid and neighborhood dog he met. He had one black-ringed eye that gave him a kind of rakish look, plus an eternal dog-smile that he apparently used to work his way into the hearts of every female dog in a 10-block area, as evidenced by a plentiful group of two-toned puppy-progenies in the southwest part of town where we we used to live and our friends still reside.
The amazing story of Bo's disappearance and return began one snowy January day at least 20 years ago, when he accompanied Dick, his owner and best buddy, outside to shovel the sidewalks. Dick figured Bo had gotten tired of the cold and had simply barked his way back into the house, so it was full dark when the walks were done and the awful truth was discovered.
Bo was missing.
A full-scale dog-hunt ensued, but no dice. No dog.
Dick was heartbroken.
Weeks and months passed.
After a while, we encouraged him to get another dog. After all, there were plenty of Bo's offspring available for adoption in the neighborhood. But Dick would have none of it.
"I don't want another dog," he said. "I want Bo."
And we couldn't blame him, for Bo was truly a remarkable little friend.
A few more months passed until Megan, our young sons and I were invited to an Independence Day party in Peoria, where I worked at the time. It was a cookout on the Illinois River, and we didn't head towards home until well after dark. We were driving through the small town of Laura, just under the railroad underpass on the south end of town, when, suddenly, we saw something.
It was a small, mostly white dog, running along the highway. As we passed him, he turned to look at us, displaying a familiar-looking black-ringed eye and a broad doggy smile.
She: THAT'S BO!
She: THAT'S BO, THAT'S BO, THAT'S BO!!!
ME: That's crazy. We've gotta be 25 miles from Galva. And Bo has been missing since January.
Any experienced husband would easily recognize the loaded silence that greeted my reply. It spoke of hurt feelings, wounded pride and sure reprisal. I recognized it right off, and just before we reach the north end of town, I relented.
Me: O.K. Let's go see.
She: I KNOW IT'S BO. HE WAS LOOKING RIGHT AT ME. THAT'S BO, THAT'S BO, THAT'S BO!!!
I pulled a u-turn, and we drove the short distance back to the middle of town, where the little dog was still galloping along for all he was worth.
SHE: SEE? HE'S HEADED FOR GALVA. THAT'S BO, THAT'S BO, THAT'S BO!!!
I stopped the car. She opened the door and called his name, and I'll be darned if the little dog didn't hop in and nestle between our sleeping sons, who had, so far, dozed through the entire search and rescue drama.
We turned around again and headed towards home. We were quiet for awhile, both lost in our thoughts over what had just transpired, when she broke the silence.
She: What if it's not Bo?
Me: WHADDAYA MEAN "WHAT IF IT'S NOT BO?"
She: Well, if he's not, you could just drop him off on your way to work tomorrow. Kinda like one of those alien abduction things.
I glanced back at the little cur, who was happily panting and smiling, pausing only to wriggle a little closer to the now-awakening boys.
"Is that Bo?" said one of them.
I looked again, and I swear the little bugger winked at me.
Turns out, it was Bo. We brought him home, where his dog-pals Claude and Whitey knew him right off. Then came the critical moment. Though it was now after eleven o'clock, we couldn't bear to wait until morning to reunite Bo with his family.
We called first.
"We think we've got a surprise for you," said my spouse, which must have made our friends wonder if we had been standing too close to the fireworks that night. "We'll be right over."
We pulled into their drive, opened the door, and Bo hopped out and ran onto the porch as if he had just been out for ice cream instead of on an epic, seven-month journey.
Dog saw man. Man saw dog.
It was Bo.
We never did figure out how Bo ended up in Laura. I kinda figured someone passing through Galva saw him wandering alone in the snow, picked him up and took him home.
But who knows?
But I do know what happened on that July night those many years ago.
I know how Bo came home.