By Roger Barbee
As I write on Tuesday afternoon, the sun crosses the southern sky and reflects brightly off what we all hope is the last of this season's snow. Out the front bay window is a row of Norwegian maples. For two days I have watched the snow and for whatever reason, one similar to it comes to mind. It was March, 1957 or '58, and in North Carolina we had a sudden spring snow like this one. One day it was balmy, the next the land was covered with 6-8 inches of white.
For a young boy in south-central North Carolina, snow was a rarity. It offered many possibilities, and one of those was a chance to earn some cash. So, as soon as I could on that March day, I found some old socks to use as gloves, borrowed a shovel from Mr. Medlin our neighbor, and set out to clear sidewalks. My friend two blocks over, Michael, wanted to work to0, so I headed to Chestnut Street with hopes of cash coming into my pocket.
When I told my mother my plan, she said fine, but because of the snow, not to take my dog, Sergeant, a medium-sized white Spitz mix. I don't remember how old he was, but he and I were constant companions, and I told my mother that it would be OK. So I took him with me, both of us romping in the snow as we walked the two blocks to Chestnut Street.
It did not take long for Michael and me to find walkways to clear. We were probably clearing our fifth or sixth one when I heard a yelp from down the street. Running to the place of the sound, I found my dog crushed in the tire tracks in the snow. An oil truck driver had not seen him because of his white color and Sergeant lay mangled in the cold of Chestnut Street. Michael gave me a red wagon and I put Sergeant and his remains in it and pulled him to my home.
Because of the ruts and frozen snow, the wagon would often tip over, but each time I gingerly put my dead dog back in the wagon. Arriving home, I told my mother what had happened, and she helped me find a place behind our garage to bury him. Some days later I made a crude cross, got some green paint from a neighbor, and put his name on it. When told by someone that I had misspelled his name, I let that go, but what I could not let go were the paw tracks.
In the back of our yard next to the back alley stood a Chinaberry tree. I spent hours climbing that tree and would tell Sergeant what I could see as he scampered around it. Because of the cold, the snow stayed for several days, and standing at the kitchen sink, I could look out to "my" tree and see his footprints in the snow at its base. Those tracks seemed to last forever in my 11- or 12-year-old mind, and I was glad when the spring warmth melted the snow, taking the tracks with them.
It was a hard lesson for a young boy. I would stand at the sink and look out back, his tracks reminding me that had I listened to the wisdom of my mother, my little dog would be alive. I had made a decision and like all decisions, it had consequences.
Over 50 years later, on this March afternoon, I look at the snow-covered base of a Norwegian maple and think of that young boy and his white dog. I think of the mother who never said, "I told you so," but helped the boy dig a grave. Over 50 years later, I wonder how much I learned my lesson and how much I let it melt away. And over 50 years later, I still, when the sun sets on a spring snow, think of Sergeant and how I failed him.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.