Once upon a time our family lived on Eli Road in Ann Arbor, Michigan--a magical neighborhood at just the right time for our kids to be kids. We were 155 families cut off from the rest of the world by a highway and the busy city streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Our house was even more favored by being the last one at the end of a cul de sac and beside a dense patch of woods nestled beside the right of way of U.S. 23.
Once upon a time our family lived on Eli Road in Ann Arbor, Michigan--a magical neighborhood at just the right time for our kids to be kids. We were 155 families cut off from the rest of the world by a highway and the busy city streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Our house was even more favored by being the last one at the end of a cul de sac and beside a dense patch of woods nestled beside the right of way of U.S. 23. There was a dirt road to nowhere behind us just right for bicycles to fly off ramps built by boys. Somewhere among the trees was an architectural innovation way ahead of its time—a tree house over a club house.
The developer ran out of funds and ended up giving us landowners the 20-yard swimming pool for us to manage. It was a financial fiasco but a sociological windfall for us. It forced us to organize and work together, and in the process it turned a housing addition into a neighborhood and gave Huron High School some of its best swimmers.
Every child should be raised with a dog, and to that end Elaine answered an ad for a Golden Retriever. Arriving at a farm house, she exited our station wagon leaving a side door open. The owner searched and searched for ‘Bear’, the dog he wanted to sell. Giving up, he and Elaine went back to our wagon, and there was Bear in the back seat. He had chosen us.
Most of our dogs ran free and sorted out their hierarchy on their own. When Bear was a teen, the Police Chief’s German Shepherd whipped up on Bear. After Bear grew up, he returned the favor every time that shepherd made the mistake of coming into our yard. Bear was friends with all others, however, and adopted an elderly Old English Sheep dog across the street named ‘Sloopy.’ He had long locks like cotton. While young, Bear bonded with Sloopy and considered him a mentor. It was a common sight to see them moseying around the neighborhood together, senior citizen with a young whipper snapper tagging along behind.
Sloopy was owned by the Juntanen’s across the street who adopted Bear as readily as Bear had adopted their Sloopy. Running free, dogs develop secret lives that are to us, well, secret. Our habit was to let Bear out every night at bedtime to do his business. He’d be gone 15 minutes or so then be back begging to be let in. Until the fateful night, that was all that we thought was going on when he left our door. We learned that there was more.
If you drove a Mercury then, chances were that its transmission had been engineered by Clyde Juntanen. From the Upper Peninsula, Clyde was a descendent of Finnish miners brought there a century ago to mine copper. His and Betty’s son, Danny, was born with a congenital muscular disorder which led to him being the ‘basket boy’ for the U of M’s legendary football coach “Bo” Schembeckler. Bo and his boys looked out for Danny.
On that fateful night, we learned what had been going on under our noses between Bear and Sloopy. It seems that after Bear left our house each night, he went to their back door and waited patiently until they let Sloopy out. Then, the two of them went out to do their business. Upon their return, Betty gave both of them a bedtime snack. When Bear got home, he got another treat from me. That rascal! All those years he had been double dipping! Our dog was a neighborhood free loader!
Winters in Ann Arbor were frigid overnight with ;temperatures below zero for days on end and snow on the ground from fall to spring. The snow plow left drifts ten to twelve feet high at the end of Eli Road. The woods were dense, remote, and full of prickly brambles like those described in the Bible that so easily ensnare. Deep in winter, anyone--or anything—trapped in those woods could be there for days on end without being discovered. Were that to happen, days or weeks later their remains would be found dead and frozen solid.
One night Sloopy didn’t come back for his treat. Clyde and Betty called and called to no avail. They walked down the creek and around the park behind their house, but no Sloopy. They were about to give up when Bear showed up at the door. Not finding Sloopy, Bear took off. Minutes went by then Bear was back and dancing back and forth from door toward woods. Puzzled, the Juntanens were about to give up when it dawned on them that Bear’s agitation wasn’t for his treat: he wanted them to follow him!
Wrapping up against the cold they rushed outside and took off in swift pursuit following Bear. Straight into the woods Bear raced with the Juntanens close behind. In a remote corner on the far side of the woods Bear suddenly stopped and sat. When they caught up they found Sloopy there, his copious cotton locks hopelessly entangled in the brambles and unable to move with Bear sitting respectfully beside him, panting happily. Trudging home that night with the Juntanens, Bear was no longer a favored guest: he was family. Both are gone now except in memory, but I’d like to think they are romping together through heaven’s woods and fields—looking for the Juntanens and us.