In mid-July of 2005, TJ and I drove to Princeton to see our brand new puppy, a Golden Retriever we named Chappy.
Chappy was ours from the very start in that he was the only one of his litter to bound up to us when we arrived, while the others hung back with their mother. He was only 6 weeks old, but the breeder allowed him to come home with us a couple weeks early. It was obvious to everyone, even her, that Chappy was ready to jump head first into a life full of adventure.
Almost immediately, we brought Chappy to Chappy, the island of Chappaquiddick where my parents have a house. We were instantly bonded to him, and he to us, this house, and the land around it. Even as a puppy, he would stay close to home, content to be outside going on little adventures to the beach, or to the scrubby bushes to rouse out a skunk, or for a walk down the driveway with whomever was going to check the mail. After a rocky start with our four year old cat Chili Pepper (a claw across the nose was involved), even they settled into a friendship that would blossom over the years. Mimicking our own feelings, Chappaquiddick was Chappy’s favorite place on earth.
Chappy was there when we brought home our babies, he was there when we opened The Urban Grape. He was there to clean up after every Thanksgiving dinner, or curl up under every Christmas Tree. He delighted hundreds of children, including his own, by patiently allowing them to explore every tooth, nostril, eyeball, floppy ear, or padded toe that he had. When Chappy walked by a playground, children came running. Children – especially Noah and Jason! – crawled on him, children slept on him, children did tummy time with him, children reached their hands into his food bowl. There was nothing a human could do to him that he minded, instead seeing every interaction as a joyous moment. And because of that he was constantly rewarded with love and affection from both family, friends, and strangers. I remember a dog trainer yelling at me once when I put my face down close to his. She said, “You can never trust a dog.” To which I said, “Maybe, but I can always trust Chappy.” When it came to people, Chappy’s soul knew nothing but love. Consequently, he was a terrible, terrible watch dog.
Chappy was our joy. He and I logged hundreds of miles around the Esplanade in the years after the boys were born. He was always there, to the right of the stroller, an undeniable smile on his face, his signature wiggle in his step. He was always PROUD to be out with his family, excited to see where we were headed. Through the years, he was tied up at every playground in Boston, watchful, always keeping an eye on us all, except for when he would spot a stick that needed to be gnawed on. On our way to the Esplanade, the concierges at the Copley Fairmount would see him coming from a block away, and would get a treat ready for him. He, in turn, would put on his pretty ears, believing as dogs do that the more handsome he looked, the more treats he would be rewarded with. Because of his success at the Fairmont, he would pull this behavior at every hotel, waiting patiently for the unsuspecting concierges to realize what he was asking for.
It was because of Chappy that we were constantly reminded of how the simplest things in life make us the happiest. A walk. A hug. A ride in the car. Time with family. Playing games. A good brush. A nap. Snow days. Beach days. A tummy scratch or an ear rub in just the right spot. A cookie. A swim on a hot day. A soft bed at night. Children. People who love you, and whom you love unconditionally and with endless faith. These things were his life, and they were enough. And when we can put down our phones, and step away from Facebook, and realize that our jobs are not what define us, these are enough for us too. Chappy taught us that.
Last week, just after his ninth birthday, Chappy died, suddenly, unexpectedly, and – I’ll say it even though it hurts – tragically. He was there, running through the sprinklers and chasing the kids, and a few hours later, he was gone. We have spent days trying to make sense of his senseless death. It has involved a lot of tears, and a lot of sleepless nights for my nuclear and extended family. How can an animal so loving, and so kind meet an end so undeserving? There will never be an answer.
It was TJ that made me see that Chappy’s death, unfair as it was, could have a silver lining. For me, it has meant lingering over the boys’ bed time, and scooping up those extra hugs, cuddles, and kisses for the gift that they are. It has meant walking away from the blog, the newsletter, Twitter, Facebook, and everything else for a week and realizing that The Urban Grape doesn’t need to succeed at the expense of my being present and in the moment with my family. For TJ, it has meant throwing his children and niece and nephew into the ocean a hundred times, until his back was sore, not wanting to miss a moment of their unbridled joy. For both of us, we’ve realized that every second with our family is a gift, and we’ve wasted too many of those moments with preoccupied brains. How can it be that so many of us, including me and TJ, do not appreciate the joy we have right in front of us every single day? We swore the lesson from Chappy’s death would be to hold on to those precious moments just a little bit tighter.
The night after Chappy died, we toasted him with a bottle of wine we had been saving for a special occasion, La Joie by Vérité. Thank you Chappy, for your joy and for your truth. You were a good, good pup. I’ll see you soon on the driveway, I know you’ll never let me walk it alone.