But this year is unlike the last few. Buddy’s got his ears on for the bombs bursting in air, plus, he’s pain free. The cooler’s loaded with fresh cold water, homemade strawberry shortcake, whipped cream and even his favorite Frosty Paws. Beside him lie a few wrapped gifts that he’ll tear into on his own time, a few meaty marrow bones and even 18 candles to light when he feels like it. But in the meantime, the moment is the sweetest it can be and he’ll savor it just as it is, curled up on his favorite blanket in the bed of that truck just as he did 18 years ago.
As just a puppy then, he remembers the frowns of disgust that one would bring a pet to a fireworks show. His dad was even told by one canine expert how thoughtless, reckless and inconsiderate he was for demonstrating such animal cruelty. But parked along the river bank beside that cornfield Buddy took it all in with howls and a wagging tail. It was then that his birthday became official. And never did a year pass that Buddy didn’t catch at least one fireworks show. After all, he understood those fireworks were in honor of his birthday, and that just couldn’t be missed.
As the anticipation builds with nightfall quickly approaching, Buddy gazes off the back of that truck recalling the years that have ticked by. The Fourth of July experience changed somewhat with friends gathering in the back of the truck and other years where it was watched from inside as the skies suddenly opened up and rain pounded the windshield.
At least one year was supposed to be his last and one year he remembers being carried because he couldn’t walk. And then there were a few years of watching from the State House Lawn, one year stopped along the sidewalk, countless blankets and fields. The last few years, Buddy recalls how there wasn’t any sound during those fireworks shows — only brilliant colors. With his ears being stroked, he rested his head on my leg, unsure if this would be our last together. And this year, it wasn’t. One of his fondest Fourths was the view from the bow of our sailboat anchored in Lake Champlain.
Buddy stops to ponder just last year, when he had the best seat in the house, the summit of Camel’s Hump. It was his first year completely “pain free,” sitting close to his best friend of 16 years, shielded from the wind. But this year, he’s not sitting on a giant cold rock in the dark over 4,000 feet up. Instead, he’s got the comfort of a King in the back of that truck from 18 years ago.
In the far distance, a flash of red, white and blue spatters the sky followed by a deep explosion. Buddy lifts his head to catch the show. It’s Buddy’s birthday once again, the Fourth of July, and now he knows it. And until he finds me, waiting for him in that truck, he’ll return to this spot each year hoping I’m there.
Meanwhile, from that distant pasture on that hillside in the middle of nowhere, Buddy looks down off the tailgate of that old rusted truck, wide-eyed and amazed by what he sees. All of America is celebrating below him.
JD Green hosts “The Breakfast Club” on Froggy 100.9 FM. He and his girlfriend, Charilyn Williams, have started Paws, a central Vermont pet bereavement group. It is free and meets monthly at the First Church in Barre, Universalist. For more information, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.