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Cracker Barrel: The day Buff died

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Boys and dogs go together like ham and eggs, and most of the guys in our gang had dogs. Jim Glendening had a cocker spaniel named Sandy. Smitty had a handsome mutt named Boots. Bruce Nelson had a little snippet of a dog named Tootsie.

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I don't remember if Larry Bell had a dog, but I know for a fact that Bobby Anderson did, because I was there the day she died.

Her name was Buff, and buff she was, both in the palomino color of her coat and the perfectly sculpted condition of her body. Buff was a boxer, the first of that breed any of us had known, and she quickly won the hearts of every one of us.

I, who was dogless, thanks to my father's claim of having been ravaged in his childhood by a dog who tried to kill him, was particularly smitten. Buff belonged to Bobby and his younger brother, Ricky, but her heart, I felt, belonged to me.

Actually, it would be more accurate to say that Buff belonged to all of us. She was young, just past puppyhood, and, like us, possessed of boundless energy.

She'd eagerly fetch whatever you threw, from sticks to stones to baseballs. She loved swimming at the beach, tried cadging rides in our puttmobiles, spent entire mornings sniffing after rabbits and field mice in the meadow at The Bluff, sat watching patiently while we fished, and could effortlessly run the legs right off any of us.

She had a gentle and loving temperament, and shared her time and attention without reserve.

With her docked ears and cropped tail (a common practice before the rising awareness of animal rights) Buff looked stylish and kept herself remarkably clean. Her short hair and natural agility helped. Weeds and seeds and thistles found no traction on her coat, and she would emerge from a romp through the woods looking as well-groomed as when she had entered.

She had a white blaze on her chest, and I can't remember a time when it became discolored. When it came to personal tidiness, she was more like a cat than a dog.

Little by little, Buff became our mascot. She accompanied us everywhere, exuding good will and a love of adventure. As summer wore on, we became so used to having her around that we almost forgot she was a dog, and needed to be protected from things like speeding cars.

We were crossing the highway south of town, wheeling Bobby Anderson's bike back from the gas station where we'd gone with him to fix a flat tire, when it happened. For some reason Buff lagged behind the rest of us. We'd all crossed the pavement to the town side of the highway when she decided to join us, and trotted out right in the path of an oncoming car. Somebody screamed at her to go back, but it was too late. The driver hit his horn and then his brakes, and the front of the car tipped downward as the brakes grabbed hold. Buff was centered on the front bumper.

We saw a flash of chrome, a spray of blood, heard the thudding of her body as she rolled beneath the car and out the back and came to a stop near the center line of the pavement. Bobby shoved his bike to the ground, ran to her and scooped her up. Her legs hung like limp sausages and blood trickled from her nostrils and ears.

He set her down in the grass beyond the shoulder and started to moan. His little brother, Ricky, was already crying. We watched in stunned disbelief as her eyes took on a cloudy look and the rise and fall of her breathing slowed, shuddered and then stopped.

"Oh, God!" cried Bobby, running his hand over her lifeless head. "Why why why why?"

We knelt in a circle around them both, stroking Buff's tawny coat, squeezing Bobby's neck and shoulders.

Nobody had an answer.

Collections of Craig Nagel's columns are available atwww.CraigNagelBooks.com.

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