Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Day at the Park

(Above is Withers Hall at North Carolina State University. Many undergraduate teaching labs are there as well as classrooms and offices.)

A big milestone in mine and Abby’s relationship took place on a late summer afternoon one Sunday. My cousin invited my mom to Jordan Lake to spend the afternoon with her and her family. Abby too was invited. My cousin, her daughter, husband and Nikki went camping at the campsites operated and maintained by the Jordan Lake State Park authorities. Jordan Lake is a reservoir in the Triangle area close to Durham created by the damming of the Haw River. The Haw River eventually empties into the Cape Fear River, one of NC’s biggest rivers, and flows past Fayetteville and Wilmington. I was also invited but was unable to go. I was busy teaching labs and Sunday was when I graded papers. Grading lab reports was a pain and what I liked the least about teaching labs. I found it best to grade all of the papers at once so that I would grade the papers in a consistent manner. You can bet your bottom dollar that if I took off one point for a rounding error on one paper but two points for the same error on another paper, those two students would find each other out and the ‘2point’ person would hurt me down to point out how unfair I was in my grading. So, I needed a large block of time, and in grad school, Sunday was the only day when I had that much time available to grade.

Back to the story. I thought they were supposed to return home, my mom and Abby, around 6 in the evening, so when 6pm came and went I started to worry when there was neither sighting of them nor a single call. Finally, around 8pm, my mom reached me on her niece’s cell phone. The reception was broken and crackly, but I could hear my mom say that she and Abby were fine, but that they were unable to leave the park and would not come home until the next morning. The park rangers have a strict policy of when the gates open and close. Once the gates are closed for the night, no one goes in; no one goes out. Everyone inside is on lock-down until the gates open the next morning.

I was in a near panic. My imagination went awry and all I could see was that my mom had lied to me and that instead Abby got lost. I further thought that my mom was making up a story to find time until they found my baby girl. I came very close to driving the 45 mile trip out there and getting my baby girl but I had a few beers that afternoon and didn’t want to chance a DUI. (Did I mention that the students seem smarter after I’ve had a few beers and the grading goes more smoothly?). All I could do was wait.

The next day, Monday, was a school day. I had labs to teach so I had to go to school. Normally, after teaching labs, I would go to the research labs (as opposed to the teaching labs) and do my own lab work. On this day, I changed my routine and went home to see how Abby was doing. My mom’s car was in the garage so that was of some relief to me, but I had to see my baby girl. I checked the living room and den, but they were not there. It turns out they were both layed out in my mom’s bed. When I came into the bedroom, they didn’t even notice me at first. That is how tired, worn out and deep asleep they both were.

I leaned over the bed and hugged Abby. She thwapped her tail on the bed and without lifting her head, licked my face and fell back asleep. Those two were tuckered out and it showed. I went back to school, relieved knowing that my baby girl was safe and secure.

Upon returning home later that day, my mom filled me in on what happened. Abby had a wonderful time. She played with Nikki, swam in the lake, got to eat people food at the cook out and spend the night with Nikki and my cousin’s family. My mom shared a tent with my cousin’s daughter, who was 13 at the time, Nikki and of course Abby. Abby had quite a good time. My mom, on the other hand, was miserable. She had no air conditioning and no pillow. There were deer all over the place, their eyes reflecting in the light. My mom has a hang-up about wild animals. In times when a bird has flown into her house, she immediately evacuates the house screaming the whole way out and would not return until the bird had been removed from the house. (I wish I had known about this phobia when I was a kid.) Her irrational fear of wild animals can petrify and immobilize her so that night must have been hell for her. My mom’s sleepiness was attributed to the fact that she slept three, maybe four hours tops. Abby’s sleepiness was due to the fact that she had been in over-drive the previous day and had worn herself out with all the fun and activities at the lake.

I had been fretted and saddened by the fleeting thought of what would happen if Abby was gone forever. Fortunately, that time wouldn’t come until over a dozen years later after she had lived a full, happy life. She wasn’t just a dog or a pet to me. She was my sunshine angel beauty queen.

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