It is sad, but in 2005, the one full year of her life that we had Opal, we did not go to the inn at Goshen, New Jersey where we had vacationed regularly. Anne, the inn-keeper there, had become a dear friend over the years, and she kindly allowed us to bring all of our dogs. I say it is sad because we never got to take Opal there. We thought it was more important to take our dogs to dog shows instead. Actually, Anne met Opal once. It happened this way.
In February 2006, we entered all of our dogs in the Boardwalk Kennel Club dog show at the Convention Center in Wildwood, NJ, not far from Anne’s inn. Anne attended the show and it was there that she saw Opal. However, later that year, I found myself including Anne’s name in the list when I undertook the surreal task of informing our friends that Opal was dying. Looking back, I am so glad we had made the effort to attend that show because it afforded Anne her only chance to meet Opal. It also planted a seed that would become a magical memory of Opal.
One of the happiest memories I have of Opal occurred quite by accident and it is connected to that show. We had taken all of our dogs: Paris, Mikhailya and puppy Opal to the show. Although the dogs did not win any of their classes, I remember being very happy anyway. In February by the sea, the daylight can be weak, and so it was that weekend as it glowed through the fog with a pale light. Undaunted by the dampness, every day we took the dogs for long walks on the boardwalk where they are allowed only during the off-season.
The three borzoi generated lots of attention as we walked the great length of the old Wildwood boardwalk. To our surprise, some of the boardwalk stores were open, selling the usual items, tee-shirts and sea-shore memorabilia and fudge. I remember the cashiers calling out to us as we passed. They were young men with strong Russian accents asking us to come in and buy something. They were very excited to see borzoi.
We walked on and vanished into the wet air. Was it fog or water? I cannot remember now. I only remember there was walking, so much walking. It was very misty during all of those days we were there. We walked and walked, not wanting to miss any time to spend on the old boardwalk. We must have looked like apparitions passing through the mist in the old midway. Together, they created a dramatic sight: three big white dogs walking by the sea, their coats blowing wildly in the strong winds. I remember feeling very proud. I remember that it brought tears to my eyes at the time, thinking to myself over and over, “These are my dogs…”.
Today, looking back on those days in Wildwood, the memory passes through a prism in my mind and assumes a brilliant clarity, as the jewel tones one sees through the viewfinder of a kaleidoscope. In that instant, before the picture collapses into dust, I am there again on the boqardwalk with my dogs. It is a magical moment that has the power to carry me along in a limitless reverie. Or, in my mind’s eye, I see forms in outlines, and before the threads unravel I follow where they lead. The images are illuminated as if from within. They impart a light that shines on all that surround it in the darkness. Suddenly, I see a beautiful white hound. Is it Opal? What I would not give to live in that moment forever: I did not know that Opal was going to die.
Time is not kind to people like me. Today, I have wishes, regrets, and loss, the ultimate issue of magical memories. Still, I wish for magic for everything – the magic of walking on the boardwalk with my dogs; the magic that would have kept Opal well, and the magic that would bring Opal back…even for a short time.
We will remember to visit Goshen with the dogs before the year’s end. It will be the last vacation for us before winter settles in. Opal would have loved Anne’s inn. Crates are not there, and we all stay close together in the little cabin at night. During the day, we will take long walks together. I will walk along the deserted beaches of Delaware Bay with my dog. Then, we’ll make our way back through the trails to Lost Pond and Anne. I will try to see them through her eyes and wonder what she would have seen. Yes, I will take the time to show them to her. It is so sad we did not take Opal to Goshen. She missed all of this and more. I will take her just this once.
There was a surprise for me at Anne’s Inn: a photograph taken at a dog show – people holding dogs ringside – my husband and me – two borzoi – Mikhailya and Opal! Imagine my surprise. I quickly averted my eyes so I would not cry. Yes, Anne said, she took that photo of us earlier that year at the Boardwalk Kennel Club dog show, and she had a duplicate to give me. Later, I studied the photograph very closely. How happy we appeared. It looked as if it were taken a lifetime ago. Could it have been this very year? Was I the woman in the photo? I continued to examine the photograph closely, transfixed. Opal would have been fifteen months old, three months before we would learn that she was ill. How clearly her illness suddenly appeared to me – she looked so tiny standing next to Mikhailya!