Brian J. Sullivan
He was not particularly handsome, nor was he exceptionally bright. He understood more English than he could speak. In fact he drooled a lot and smeared up my truck windows, and he had an unmistakably strong dog smell to him.
The blue tag attached to his collar said his name was Charles, no doubt named after Prince Charles of England. There was no phone number or address, just Charles. When I found him, he was scurrying along the fence row along Interstate 70 somewhere between Indianapolis and Dayton.
I was heading to my next art fair in Columbus, Ohio. It was unbearably hot, and poor Charles was panting heavily as he maneuvered among the tall grass and hedge row. His fur was all matted and tangled with big knots of burrs stuck in it. Charles must not have eaten for several days because his ribs had started to show through his mangy coat.
Charles was a mid-size dog of no particular lineage. More correctly, he was a mixed breed dog commonly referred to as a "Heinz 57." He was whitish in color with patches of brown. He had a large square head and a long skinny tail which was very excited.
I lured him to the side of my van with a bowl of ice water from my thermos. At first he was a bit hesitant, but after several false starts, he came to the bowl, emptied it, and allowed me to refill it. I moved away from the bowl and he would come for seconds.
I climbed into my van, and much to my surprise, Charles followed. I closed the door and was off. Charles was not one for manners and quickly jumped up into the empty passenger seat, curled up and slept. I drove on, watching for signs towards the city. I was nearing my destination.
This fair was a new one for me. As I negotiated the unfamiliar city streets, Charles came to life, sat upright in the seat, and looked at his new surroundings. He never barked but rather sat contently in his place of honor. Occasionally we would make eye contact, but words were never spoken.
I pulled into the check-in line, picked up my fair packet, and proceeded to my designated spot. Charles never moved. He watched from his vantage point out the open passenger window as I toiled to set up. He never lent a hand, but he was always watchful of the process.
Once the fair began, Charles laid quietly behind my tent next to my chair. His water and food bowl mere inches from my chair, Charles seemed to enjoy just "hanging out" while I tried frantically to hawk my wares throughout the weekend. He was my biggest supporter, more so than my wife or children. He has gone all over the United States with me. We were inseparable.
Charles barked very little, but on one occasion, while I was busy dealing with a customer in the front of my tent, someone had crept up behind my tent and was going for my cash box when Charles let out a beefy yep which alerted me and scared off the thief.
Another time, while sleeping in my van in downtown Chicago, someone tried to pry my van door open (not knowing that we were inside). I was still asleep, but Charles instantly went towards the door and growled enough to again thwart a would-be crime.
On cold nights in Colorado, he always seemed to provide enough body heat to keep me warm. Through good fairs and bad fairs, Charles was always at my side, never complaining. He was my support person, my confidant. Over the years, I shared my deepest secrets with him, knowing he would never tell. In dangerous neighborhoods he kept me safe. He asked so little—a few bowls of food and an occasional belly rub.
Next week would have marked the 8th anniversary date since I found Charles along Interstate 70.
Now, with shovel in hand, I respectfully place the final bit of earth over him along the same spot in which I found him many years ago. Along the Interstate cars and trucks speed by me unaware of the significance of my presence. As I drive off, a light rain begins to cover my windshield. I turn the wiper blades on, but the tears in my eyes continue to flow.