Memories of a dear companion

Temperatures are finally cooling off here in NC, and my dogs become lively with the nice weather. And it puts me in mind of a story, related to dogs and books, that I'll share here.
A little background: we lived in Michigan's Upper Penninsula years ago, and even now, head north for Christmas whenever we can. We tromp into the woods, cut a tree, strap it to the toboggan, and the dogs haul it home. From these experiences (and others) came my picturebook story of Old Dog Cora and the Christmas Tree.
In the story of Cora, there are three generations of girldogs. Cora is getting elderly and the family considers leaving her home, as she's getting too old to work. The story revolves around how Cora deals with this. But the younger dogs are harnessed and do pull the tree.
At the time I was creating the story and the original dummy, we had 3 generations of Newfs who were my models - Canoni (12 years old), her daughter Milakokia (10), and her granddaughter Ishkoodah (8). The personalities of the girls were all over the book as I created the art. The youngest, Ishkoodah, was my model for Ebony. As the time that it takes for a book to be created and published passed, our old girls left us. But once the art was all done and turned in, and we were just months from the book coming out, Ishkoodah was still with us, altho now age 11 1/2. I very much hoped that this sweet old girl would be around to celebrate when the book came out, and to go to book signings and school visits with me; after all, her mother and grandmother had both lived to be 12 1/2.
In May before the book came out in the autumn, I had F&Gs of the book, and gave a presentation for a class of kids at a library. Ishkoodah came along, but because I know that once the kids see the dog, the dog is the center of attention (think: Officer Buckle and Gloria) I had Ish on a "stay" behind a long bookcase. I was reading the story to the kids, and I came to the part where Mom says "Let's put on your harnesses!" At that point Ish, who had obviously been listening to the story too, got up, came over and sat in front of me and looked right at her harness, which was sitting on the table next to me. Ah, what a girl. Just like the dogs in the story, she knew what her harness was for, loved her work, and was ready. I stopped reading, put Ishkoodah's harness on her, told her to lie down and wait, and then finished reading the story. It was totally perfect.
Sadly, Ishkoodah died, peacefully, two months later. She didn't make it until the book came out. But I was always happy that she had at least one chance to "be Cora". We've had other girls "be Cora" since then, but they've always been young dogs, and never quite had the elegant presence of an elderly working dog.

1 comment:

June said...

I know I left a comment here yesterday... but it has vapourised!

I wanted to say how touching a story this was, and how wonderful that you have immortalised your good friends in a book.
And isn't it special that those children got to witness that magical moment? I bet they will remember that story session all their lives.