A Farewell to my friend and companion, HankMan….
I can’t remember exactly when I first met Hank. My daughter was then attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and she, and her roommate, were down in Panama City visiting. They found Hank, I can only suppose unexpectedly, while at the pound in Dothan, Alabama. Guess they were headed south from the big city. He was not teeny tiny, but he was a puppy nonetheless, even a cat person would have spotted that. He had a golden coat and beautiful bone structure, very sporting as a young man! I was immediately taken by his affect and demeanor; he was very calm and collected. Remember, he was a puppy and given his golden fur and general appearance, I assumed (wrongly it would turn out, yes, shocking) that he was a Golden Retriever with perhaps a smidge of Labrador in his DNA spiral. As most of you know, neither Goldens nor Labs are renowned for their chill attitude, especially in young puppy-hood.
Not to discredit my daughter, but 10-13 years ago, or so, I was not completely convinced that Hank would fare well in an apartment complex full of college students in Birmingham, Alabama. Not that they would have intentionally hurt him, nothing like that, (who knows, he could have been beer bong champ). However, the fuzzy memories from my college apartment days and the images that were conjured were not particularly consistent with solid, conscientious pet care. Regardless, I suggested that maybe they should leave Hank with me, at least for a time. And, in all honesty, I fell in love with Hank at first sight, (I may have offered a tab on the beach, maybe).
So, for a few years, how many escapes me, Hank and I hung out at my house. Hank was a great sport and enjoyed boating, swimming, running, playing and…. the BIG ONE, ball. I picked up a half-deflated volleyball soon after meeting Hank and, like the movie Castaway, used a magic marker and wrote “WILSON” in big letters and did what was my version of a face on Wilson. Although, again, specific memory eludes me, I want to say it took a few introductory lessons for Hank to fully grasp the whole process; I throw Wilson, Wilson spends a little air time finally landing back on the earth a few yards away. So far, so good. Hank did not immediately pick Wilson up with his mouth, he smelled it, pawed it and closely examined him though. But it was not long, at all, and Hank had Wilson firmly clenched in his teeth. Thing is, Hank really never got the whole retrieve, return, repeat sequence. No, once he had Wilson, it was normally a test of will, strength and patience to get Wilson from his jaw. Getting bigger and stronger by the day, it got to where it was just talk like a baby in a soft, high pitched tone in an attempt to coax Wilson from his grip.
Sometime later, Hank picked up a pretty strong pine cone habit. Having learned from his Wilson experience, Hank took pine cones up immediately. He would crouch, holding his head low, until you let fly the cone and he would catch them in the air, on the bounce, in all sorts of ways. Living in LA (lower Alabama), there is no shortage of pine cones, or there wasn’t then. Now, after having Hurricane Michael roar through on October 10, 2018, there really aren’t any pine trees left, from whence the pine cone emanates. I have heard numbers up to 90% tree loss and that includes the oak trees that survived, sort of. Unless you are from around here, this is probably news to you. Hurricane Michael was a catastrophic category 5 hurricane, but nobody gives a shit. What, we’re now almost nine months out and the only thing I can see is “they” have moved the big debris from the streets. I don’t live here full time anymore, but far as I can tell, we’re on our own. You can look it up yourself, better yet, call NBC’s Today Show; Al Roker compared Tropical Storm Barry to Michael just the other day. That’s like comparing an allergic reaction to Ebola. Let’s stop this banter about Hurricane Michael, it’s a national disgrace and this is a remembrance and celebration of Hank, not the inequity and all the “isms” that have been visited upon the Florida Panhandle.
At the time I was raising Hank, the children would really enjoy him when they came over, they loved him too. Maybe you could say that they all raised one another, none more so than me. The difficulty arose when I would go out of town, say fishing to Alaska or other cool stuff bachelors get to do in their mid 40’s. It wasn’t always fishing but I had the opportunity to do a bit of traveling and while Hank might be ok for a day, maybe even two, I couldn’t leave him alone for extended periods of time. I had friends who would take care of him, the food and water bowl stop, but that’s just not same as companionship and I never thought it was good for him and it bothered me.
Eventually, after repeated persuasive attempts, Hank moved to live with my children on the beach where they resided ‘full time’ with their mother and her husband. Initially, Hank was to be an “outside” dog and lived in the garage. Those who exist solely in the world of matter think shit like furniture is important. However, the kids tell me Hank eventually softened everyone’s heart and was admitted to the indoor realm. He was always a gentleman and, back then, I would stop in from time to time to visit him. My Mama always said if you have nothing nice to say, you should not say anything at all, there came a time when my occasional visits with Hank ceased.
Hank would travel with the kids when they visited Linville, North Carolina. Their great grandparents had built a place there long, long ago and many in their family had a tradition of visiting the house the great grandparents had built and go on day hikes, the majority of which were almost part of family lore and were well known to each family member. Most, if not all, of these hikes were what I would call destination hikes; hike down to a swimming hole, or a slide rock, and then hike back. Occasionally, they would even hike the whole of Grandfather Mountain and Hank would, my understanding is, hike (do dogs really hike?) right along with them. I cannot remember with any great specificity, but I want to say Hank went to Linville for at least 10 years.
Sadly, the day before yesterday, was Hank’s last hike. Hank developed a condition referred to as “bloat”. It has something to do with a dog’s stomach becoming twisted and, although there are advance warning symptoms, Hank didn’t make it out of the Vet’s office. It is sad, at least it is to me. It is sad to all of us with a beating heart. Hank was an honored member of my family, even in abstentia. I saw Hank a month, or so, ago. My daughter brought him by my house, and it had been so long since our last visit, I wondered if he remembered me. But, it’s not about me, is it? There is plenty of self-centered, in the mirror idolization already, so let’s be done with that.
I loved Hank greatly. I missed Hank every time I thought of him, which was frequently. Now that he is gone from us, that emotion is smoldering. Hank was part of my like and a big part of my children’s life. Regardless of the circumstances, I am grateful that they both had the opportunity to have an animal like Hank in their lives. We, all of us, have a great chance to learn many lessons from animals, particularly our pets; pets that live in our homes and are a part of our daily routines. We can also learn a lot about our fellow man from how they behave and act toward our pets. Do they want the best for them, or are they satisfied with whatever is cheapest since it is, after all, just for the dog.
Hank, wherever you are, I am thinking of you right now. Truth be told, I am sitting here weeping Hank. I don’t know how your last weeks, days and hours were, but I pray they were wonderful. Until I see you in the sky, I love you Hank.
*Post Script: It my habit, with my son, to make a suffix for a proper name. For example, Henry Nueman (the red dog of mine who was Hank’s brother) is actually just Henry, then added “New Man”….Naturally, I thought that “truncating” that to Nueman was a fabulous idea. I use the word “truncating” because I still have a Government job application rolling. They like things like “truncating”. If you can actually use it in a sentence, shit Daddy; way extra points!