by Phil Callaway
My mother sang me nursery rhymes—to prepare me for the perils of life, I suppose. Nursery rhymes in which Little Bo Peep lost her sheep, blind mice lost their tales, and Humpty Dumpty lost his balance and was never quite able to pull himself together again. I listened as weasels went “pop”, cradles went “crash!”, and an old man went to bed and bumped his head and couldn’t get up in the morning.
Mom also sang a sad little song that depressed the life out of me: I lost my kitty, my poor little kitty. I wandered the fields all ‘round. I looked in the cradle and under the table, but nowhere could kitty be found. So I took my hook, and went to the brook to see if my kitty was there. But there I found that she had been drowned, and so I gave up in despair.
I longed for a happier ending. Something like: So I took my hook and went down to the brook, to see if she’d gotten that far. I say unattested that she’d been arrested, and charged for driving my car.
I love happy endings, don’t you?
My son, Jeff, and his wife, Raelyn, sure do. They live on a farm surrounded by cats and horses and piglets that sometimes get loose and make life exciting. When they decided to add Golden Retrievers to the mix, my wife and I shook our heads and smiled. Soon enough, Abby, the friendliest dog you ever want to let near your face, was extremely pregnant. She looked the same width from the side as from the front.
All was well. Until someone left a door open and Abby escaped. Jeff and Raelyn looked in the cradle and under the table but nowhere could Abby be found. They scoured the yard, the field, the woods. My granddaughter, Sophia, did her best to pick up the scent. She’s two. “Abby, where you go?” she asked aloud. “Come Abby.” But no Abby. About to give up, they remembered that God loves all creatures great and small. And so they prayed.
It was early March. A cold front arrived. The temperature dipped to -20. The wind howled. Papa dog Henry howled. Still no Abby. They prayed again. So did we. But the dog had been missing two days now.
And then one morning, Henry simply closed his jaws on Raelyn’s coat sleeve, pulled her to the door, and took off running. Raelyn followed. And found papa Henry standing by an old tree stump wagging his tail like proud papa dogs do in the movies. Beneath that stump was a small hole in the ground. From that hole came the unmistakable sound of whimpering.
Jeff arrived. He pulled a very cold Abby from that tight little den in the ground. Raelyn took the dog inside to warm her up. And Jeff put his arm down that hole and began pulling out puppies. He brought them into the house two at a time. Four puppies. Six puppies. Very cold puppies. He gently plunked the last five into a big bucket and brought them to his very wide-eyed wife. Eleven puppies. All warm and whining and looking for mama.
Ever since I was a child, I loved few things more than a story of the lost being found. Maybe the seeds were sown with that nursery rhyme about a poor little kitty. Or maybe there’s a longing within each of us to know that Someone found us worth looking for. That Someone called our name and didn’t stop searching until we were back in the kennel.
Jesus told stories of lost sheep and lost coins and lost boys. He said he came to seek and to save that which was lost.
This weekend, I will visit Sophia. And we will stand beside that tree stump along with two or three or eleven puppies. We’ll point and laugh. And later, I’ll rock her to sleep while telling her the story of how Jesus found me.
Then perhaps I’ll sing her a nursery rhyme or two—I’ll make up happy endings.
Phil Callaway is suddenly the grandpa of six. Two of Jeff and Raelyn’s dogs are now expecting. They have put a cover on the hole beneath the tree.