“He who hath the steerage of my course direct my sail.'” Romeo and Juliet Act I Scene 4
I have long believed that, although I hold the pen to write my life story, the contents of my life’s course falls solely on God. As an English teacher, I lecture about foreshadowing and its power in literary works. Like characters in a book, movie or play, we don’t recognize foreshadowing in our own lives until it is too late.
One of my dearest friends, Kristina, was marrying a most amazing man, Andy, on Saturday, January 15, 2011. I took the day before off, a totally legitimate personal day, and went and got my nails done in preparation. As I was flipping through the magazines and having my toes lacquered, I came across an article about traveling with pets, and realized we never did any of those things when our twenty-month old beagle traveled with us. I realized it was too late to do anything for our upcoming night away for the wedding. My husband had been so excited when he realized she could stay with us and we wouldn’t have to be away from our “little girl.”
The location of the ceremony and reception was a lodge in Stillwater, Minnesota, twenty minutes away from our home. For months, Kristina and Andy had been meticulously planning a beautiful Victorian inspired wedding at an old Victorian Era poor house bed and breakfast. As I drove up to the venue for the rehearsal dinner, I was reminded of The Cider House Rules. The estate had multiple buildings scattered around was eerily peaceful with all sound dampened by the freshly falling snow.As I walked up to the massive door frame and touched the handle, it was like a movie flashback instantly jolted through me. The moment I touched the metal, I was reminded of a dream that I had had about that very entryway. The details were cloudy, but I was very certain this was the very location about which I had dreamed.
The snow slowed many of the members of wedding party, and in fact my husband had to stay home because he was called in at three the next morning to plow the streets of the city where he works. I was chatting with PMG, Pastor Mike Graham, and Andy, the groom, after rehearsal and before dinner and it happened again. All of a sudden I realized that I had this conversation in a dream before — I had not realized who I was talking to in the dream but it manifested itself clearly now. Again, we are so aware of foreshadowing after the fact. I was convinced that these were simply good omens for the happy couple as they were getting married. Sometimes I am very naive.
I was the first scheduled in the bridal party to have my hair done the next day, at 8:30 am. I packed up my bags to check into the room at the inn, and left Jem to wait for her daddy when he got home from work.
Eight hours later, I was waiting for my husband to arrive. He had been awake since two o’clock in the morning — but was ready for his three roles in the wedding. He was to light the luminaries on the walk way, run the music during the ceremony and clean up the flower girls petals after the ceremony. At 4:31, he showed up and went to light the luminaries while puppy lounged in her makeshift nest in his truck. Tim completed his first job and went to transfer his baby girl to my car from his truck until after the ceremony.
Unbeknownst to me, whilst in transfer, Jem managed to twist herself free from Tim’s grip on her collar. He pursued her as she followed a scent down a cross country ski trail.Back at the lodge, there were tears and stress — not from the bride, but from me. My husband was supposed to play the music for the wedding — and he was missing and still not dressed. Thank heavens for one of Kristina’s personal attendants, Maggie. She filled in quickly and did an outstanding job cuing the impeccably chosen musical for the nuptials.
For my part, I slapped on a happy smile for my best friend’s wedding and marched down that aisle. The entire time, my mind was filled with utterly non-happy marital thoughts. It wasn’t until about half way through the ceremony that I realized what had happened — actually, I think my mom, who was sitting in the congregation, had the thought at the exact same moment. Jem. The dog had gotten loose.
Sure enough, my husband appeared in his suit towards the end of the ceremony with a tear stained face, and mouthed to me up at the front of the room the word that usually brought me so much joy. Jem. Then he shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
She was gone.
As soon as I marched down that aisle after the adorable Mr. and Mrs. Hering, I found my husband. I stayed calm. I contacted Washington County Sheriff and asked them to let us know should they hear anything about a little beagle nosing around someone house. She had a good nose ‘” she would sniff her way back to us!
We had a cocktail and then went out and called for her.
We couldn’t hear any happy jingle of her tags in the distance.
We sat down to dinner. We ate. It was really good food, but I felt like I was in the Army and simply feeding for the mission that was going to come.
We went out and called for her.
Still no happy jingle from afar.
I made up my mind that she would come back, we couldn’t see her in the dark so it was no use traipsing out in the snow and Andy and Kristina only got married once — so I was going to enjoy this night that I had been talking with my friend about for months.We danced. We chatted. We laughed. I was surrounded by my family, friends from high school and college and the friends we had met through Andy so recently. “It will be just like Homeward Bound,” we all decided and went on enjoying ourselves. We even called the neighbors, Sean and Jaime, and asked them to keep their eyes and ears open in case she made the journey home. Because they are awesome neighbors, they went calling for her around Forest Lake.
At 10:30, I couldn’t take it anymore. I disrobed from my long, blue dress and heels, and put on my winter running uniform. I was on a mission to save my dog.Had our errand not been so emotionally charged, it would have been a beautiful night to be out wandering around in the snow in the moonlight. But our echoes of “Jem” in the snow muffled fields were fruitless. The poor neighbors who were home at 11:30 at night with their lights on had to put up with me knocking and asking questions about whether they had seen a cheeky little beagle. To Minnesota nice credit, everyone was more than happy to help us despite the creepiness of people showing up at their door in the middle of the night.
Crabby, scared, and beating ourselves up for ruining Andy and Kristina’s wedding and losing the third member of our family — we returned to the lodge.
I broke down. I sobbed. Katherine, Kristina and Andrea are so wonderful for circling around me. I have a hard time showing real emotions, and to be so open and bare in my despair — OVER A DOG — was very hard for me.
I forever owe Annie for wiping snot from my nose. You know you have been friends way too long when that happens.
The party was wrapping up and all were headed to bed — except for Brent and Annie and Alexi, who were thankfully the comic relief in this three act play. If it weren’t for their hilarity and inebriated words of comfort, I might have lost my mind completely.
But when all the drunks were passed out, and in between my husband’s sporadic trips outside to call for her because he was afraid she would come back and no one would be there to let her in, the horrible “what ifs” settled in.
Tim was convinced she was gone. We needed to get over the loss; she was a just a dog. I knew this was his coping mechanism, but it still caused shutters to echo through my chest cavity. It was too cold, she was too much of a house dog, and there had to be coyotes. There are always coyotes in Tim’s “what ifs.”
The list of odds against Jem were numerous.I saw vivid images of those trusting brown eyes, curled up in her protective, little “I’m so cold” ball somewhere in the dark worried that her family didn’t love her anymore. The raccoon eye marks I left on the inn pillows were indicative of the thoughts I had as I slept fitfully for about four hours. At one point during the night I heard a train whistle, and pictured poor little Jem — and I won’t get into details. In a lighter moment, as I tried to sweep the haunting images away I pictured her in a little Nattie Gann hat riding the rails trying to find us.
Apparently, when Tim heard the train horn he pictured her tied to the tracks like a damsel in distress from “Rocky and Bullwinkle.”
I finally got out of bed at six. It was still dark. I jumped in my little car, next to the dog nest that had never been slept in, and begin to drive around the block that surrounded the park. I called Jem’s name with all the windows down. If you have ever seen, “Follow that Bird,” I was the mean lady chasing Big Bird with my head out the window. I finally decided to start putting little notes with our number and Jem’s name in with people’s Sunday papers.
By the time I got back to the inn, it was light enough to go out on the trail by foot.I strapped on my running shoes, just like every other morning, except I was missing my training partner. My mood was positive, though. It was lightly snowing, which meant the low temperature had not gotten as wickedly cold that night as the talking heads had predicted. My heart didn’t feel so drowned in tears, and I began to run down the cross country ski trail Tim had lost her on. I ran up and down the hilly terrain and found and lost trails that COULD have been Jem’s. By the time I got back to the trailhead, I decided to start searching on the road. I began to run along the road I had driven earlier that morning. There seemed to be barns at every house, and I hoped that perhaps she had found shelter in one to hide from the cold.
Finally, I found someone outside by their barn. I ran up to him, aware that this was probably extremely bizarre out in rural Washington County Minnesota.I apologized for bothering him, and explained the situation. We were staying at the Outing Lodge and our dog had run away.
I was turned around to leave when he said, “You lost her pretty early last night, didn’t you?”
I turned and looked at him and nodded.
He pointed towards the woods across the street and back about one hundred yards where I had just come from.”I heard howling from over there last night. There are a lot of deer trails. I would follow the road.”
I thanked him, informed him that was the first lead we had, and proceeded to back track to the road he pointed out. Just as I was coming to the road, a car pulled out of a driveway right at the end of the road.
I flagged the car down, and a woman rolled the window down.
She took one look at me and said, “Are you looking for a dog?”
My face crumpled as I gasped, “Yes!”
“Get in,” she said.
She turned the car around and went right back up the driveway. She explained that about a half an hour ago when she had let her own dog, Snickers, out, Jem came and started to hang around. She wouldn’t go away and looked well taken care of, so the woman had put her in her greenhouse.
“This was meant to be,” she said, “I was simply taking the garbage to the end of the road, and I was headed right back up the driveway when you flagged me down.”Had I not stopped to ask the man by the barn if he had seen a dog, had the woman, Bernie, not brought the garbage down at that instant — we may never have met up and been able to get the puppy back home. Bernie had even called the dog catcher, and thankfully he hadn’t answered.
The prayers that Tim and I had whispered together the night before had been answered.
Bernie led me into the greenhouse, and there was my little girl. She looked so small, fragile and cold. She took one look at me and licked my nose and I scooped her up into my arms.
I had my baby girl back.
On the ride back to the lodge that Bernie so generously offered, I discovered just how small this world is, and how mysterious the Lord is in his works. Bernie Stimson was the grandmother of one of my classmates from high school, Nathan Stimson.
She was truly an angel sent to answer our prayers. I promised her I would say a prayer for her at mass that morning, we hugged and puppy and I made our way into the lodge. She was so excited to see her Uncle Andy, the two of them have a very special relationship. I relayed my morning’s adventures to the new, happily married couple and few friends that were already awake.
Then I led puppy upstairs to see her daddy.
Tim said he had been sleeping soundly when he heard the jingle of her tags indicating that his family was back together again. Beyond all odds, in spite of a few scratches and a slightly bruised spirit from some adventure on her excursion I can only have nightmares about, Jem had come back to us.
We weren’t going to have to simply return to our house that morning, we got to go back home, together.