The Lesson of the Very Short Leash

I received an ad from a local take-out eatery recently. And if the menu alone wasn’t enough to send you scooting to their parking lot, the photo of the family picnic should have been.

It’s a shot of a family gathered around a picnic table under a big, old tree. Everyone is smiling. No one is slinging food out of butter tubs and whipped topping containers. In fact, there is no plastic silverware in sight. Did I mention everyone is smiling, and the focus is on the youngest kid at the table, who looks to be about 10, and he’s talking with a big smile spread across his face, and everyone is blissfully listening to him. Even the older sister across from him.

I have slightly different memories of family picnics.

For instance, I vividly remember my cousin Ryan’s eighth birthday party. We lived just up the hill from him in a little cabin in the woods built by his parents, my aunt and uncle, when they were first married. We’d recently acquired a very large brown chocolate lab/hound dog mix, and at the appointed party time, we leashed Yugger (that was the name the dog came with) and walked down the driveway to my aunt and uncle’s home to join the celebration.

It was late June. An outdoor picnic was in full swing. Meat on the grill, a table spread with yummy side dishes, and a beautiful cake ready for slicing and serving. Everyone was scattered in lawn chairs and on blankets around the yard, chatting and eating. Someone handed me a slice of birthday cake and a fork on a paper plate. The dog lay quietly at my feet while I visited with relatives and nibbled the cake.

A couple of uncles were filling small water balloons and the younger cousins were having a fine time running around, playing and shrieking and getting wet. One of the water balloons broke as it was being filled, and it sounded almost like a shot echoing through the woods.

Now, you would think that a dog that’s at least part hound would be accustomed to hunting, and to the sounds that go along with hunting. You know, like gunshots. But this dog? Well, he had other ideas.

At the sound of the balloon exploding, in one fluid motion he was on his feet and moving forward. Quickly. I did some very fast calculating. If a dog scared by what he thinks is a gunshot is moving at x mph and his six-foot leash is wrapped around my 22-year-old wrist three times, y equals the amount of time it takes for him to reach the end of the leash which, I might add, did not even remotely approach slowing him down. I looked at my dad, abruptly dropped the cake, fork, and plate, and said, “Bye!” And immediately I was launched wrist-first at an impossibly high rate of speed through the woods.

I am not anybody’s idea of an athlete. I don’t run. I don’t really even walk fast. However, In this instance, I was motivated by several factors: the leash around my wrist, the dog who had morphed into a chocolate bullet ricocheting through the woods, and the obstacles like stumps, bushes, holes, and low hanging branches that appeared in front of me without any warning whatsoever. I suppose for a brief time we were our own version of a video game, Yugger bolting through the woods and Deb leaping like a possessed gazelle just a few less than six feet behind him. I was told later that my strides were unbelievably long. Again…I was motivated.

Yugger finally had to stop and relieve himself about a quarter mile away from the party site. At that moment, we heard a sound from behind us unlike any we had ever heard before. It was a solid roar of laughter, seemingly endless, coming from the partygoers. Apparently we’d been the impromptu entertainment for the birthday party. Yugger hung his head in shame when he heard that, and he walked slowly up the driveway, and I trailed behind.

To this day, my Aunt Jean swears she has never laughed as hard as she did that day. I’m sure had I been in her shoes, I would have done the same. It was one of those moments that doesn’t make the cut for the photo shoot, but gets indelibly imprinted on the fabric of family memories just the same.

A hilltop picnic with Grandma! Looks a little chilly, but it's never too cool for a picnic.

A hilltop picnic with Grandma! Looks a little chilly, but it’s never too cool for a picnic.

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