My Little Copilot

 

When Tilly rode with me, she perched herself on my center console, a paw resting on my arm as if to say, “Aren’t you driving a bit too fast?” or “Your next turn is coming up.”  Maddie just crawled into Mommy’s lap and went with the flow.

Tilly

Sometimes she would rest her muzzle on my shoulder while giving puppy kisses.  I know it’s not smart to allow a puppy to ride on the console, but I grew up in an era when we pretended to surf from the back of a pickup truck.  I was much more careful with the puppies than I ever was with me.

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It is a memory I shall ever hold near my heart…because soon, memories will be all I have left.  Tilly, Miss Matilda Sue, is nearing the crossing of her rainbow bridge.

Her fall has been rapid.  We knew her sister was sick and near the end of her days…although she doesn’t seem to be any closer than when she was diagnosed with liver tumors.

After a suddenly rough night,  Tilly is calm and sedate.  She is in no pain.  We watch her breathe waiting for the last breath.  We have a four-thirty vet visit scheduled just in case.  A good portion of me hopes we don’t have to make it.

Almost fifteen years ago she and her sister, Maddie, Miss Madeline Rue, adopted us, stealing our hearts as they did.  Maddie is still with us, but I worry about how she will react to the absence of her sister.  They have been together for almost fifteen years.  Sometimes buddies, sometimes antagonist, always competitors for our hearts.  Sometimes I hate the circle of life.

Mad and Til

They imprinted on Linda more than they did on me.  I didn’t mind…I imprinted on Linda too.  It is also something I’ve found almost always happens, imprinting more on one than the other.  Late in their lives, both blind, Tilly deaf, they would wander their pathways searching for her scent anytime she was absent from their side.  I love her that much too.  I’m always anxious when she is not around.

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Mommy and her puppies

They were trouble but never troublesome…even when they escaped as mere puppies and traveled over a half-mile from home.  I can remember the joy of finding them replacing the guilt I felt for allowing them to escape.

They came into our lives after losing our long, long, long term puppy, Sassy Marie.  She was a stray who wandered up one day, skinny and skittish, and then left just as quickly…some sixteen years later all fat and Sassy.  She knew she was nearing her time and just left, leaving us to believe she still roams the hillsides around our home.  Maddie and Tilly won’t leave but will haunt us just as deeply…maybe more deeply.

Linda swore we weren’t ready for another pet, that we were just going to look.  A friend’s relative raised Blue Heelers and their puppy had had a litter of sixteen.  “I’m not going to get one, just going to look”, said she.  “Not going to get one?”  It turned out to be a question of how many.  The answer was two.

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We didn’t have a chance.  Two puppies made their way out of a mass of wagging tails, pointy, upright ears, and blue merle fur with hints of buckskin brown.  They demanded we take them and stole our hearts.  No, we had no chance at all.

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They were too smart for our own good.  Tough knots.  Brave and stubborn, they repeatedly put themselves in harm’s way.  A snake bite here, a wasp sting there.  Sticking their muzzles where they shouldn’t.  There was no doubt they would have defended us with their lives.

My little co-pilot was odd from the beginning, with no Bentley mark and a crooked tail from a birth defect.  Maddie is the perfect one, Tilly the interesting one…no they were both perfect and interesting.  She is now scarred with a cauliflower ear and a gouged nose.   Her imperfections were perfect.  They made me love her even more.

They both brought me gifts but Tilly’s were the best and the worse.  A very alive Brown snake that escaped and I hope found its way out of the house.  Several possums…thankfully playing possum.  One decided to resurrect from the middle of the dining room, leading us on a merry chase through the house.  The other, carrying a half dozen joeys waited until I dropped her over the fence to waddle off as if nothing had happened.  Tilly always stood over them with her lopsided smile, “Look, Daddy, I’m a good girl.”  “Yes, you are.”

Tilly left us this morning (Monday) on her own terms.  She lived on her own terms.  I hope she is off somewhere chasing rabbits, trying to herd squirrels, barking at birds in the trees, ears up and tail pointing crookedly toward the sky.  No longer deaf and blind…no arthritis, no longer in pain.  Fifteen years was not enough…never enough.  I love you Tilly and miss you terribly already.

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Miss Madaline Rue April 1, 2005-December 16, 2019

Don Miller’s author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

A Changing of the Guard

 

John McKissick has died.  The picture in the first obituary I read reminded me of a similar pose by General Douglas MacArthur…a green and gold baseball cap instead of a military-style hat with scrambled eggs on the visor, no corncob pipe, but the same jutting, strong chin, and intense look.  Arms crossed in front of his body, he was an imposing figure despite the hint of a smile.  The picture reminded me that along with soldiers, old coaches never die.  They live on in our memories, especially if they are legendary.  McKissick was legendary as was MacArthur…but without MacArthur’s narcissism.

I knew Coach McKissick…but I didn’t know Coach McKissick.  A big man, I shook hands with him and his hand swallowed mine.  He was the legend.  I was just starting out, a wet behind my athletic whistle young coach.  He was on his way to becoming the winningest coach in high school football, not just in South Carolina but nationally.  No one has won more games, 621, ten of them State Championship games.

Perspective.  He became the head coach at Summerville High School when I was two years old and retired the same year I did.  I coached for forty-five years.  He spent sixty-three years as the head coach at the same school.  Over five thousand players…in some cases, three generations of players.  Further perspective, he won 604 more games as a head football coach than I did.

Coach McKissick was a legend and I was a peon; a child and we all know children should be seen not heard.  I learned over time Coach McKissick would have never thought of me that way.  It was my own insecurities melting me under his gaze.

I misstated earlier.  Coach McKissick is a legend.  He still lives on in the hearts of his former players and coaches…and some people he never really knew.

At a clinic in the late Seventies, I sat just outside of his orbit making sure to be seen but not heard.  His orbit included the rest of South Carolina’s Football Trinity, Willie Varner and Pinky Babb.  They were the archangels of the religion known as Southern football…at least in South Carolina.  Together they have 1340 victories.  There were other angels at the altar of football but these three men were the most legendary of the legendary and McKissick would eventually fly higher than any with almost half of their total.

In the periphery of his orbit, I scribbled notes, hanging on his every word, hoping to pick up some tidbit to make my Xs better than someone else’s Os.  I should have listened more and quit writing notes.  For McKissick, as I learned, it was never about Xs and Os, it was about kids.  He was never a master strategist; he was a leader of men.

His former players use such descriptors as honest, motivating, inspiring, and inspirational.  Some use the greatest descriptor, a father figure.  These men speak of life lessons, those he taught and they learned.  They speak of how John McKissick was the town and school of Summerville.  Not one speaks of Xs and Os.

In an interview in Charleston’s Post and Courier by Gene Sapakoff, Coach McKissick refused to let his light shine when asked the keys to his success.  I quote directly from the Post and Courier, “I was in a good place and I was surrounded by good people; coaches, administrators, and some good players,” McKissick said. “I’ve always heard that if you surround yourself with good people who work hard, good things will happen.”

I dare say, it took a special coach to pull it all together and keep it going for sixty-three years.

The old guard was changing before Coach McKissick retired.  Babb and Varner had crossed over to their hereafter and many others of the old school had retired.  New coaches were lining up to take their places.  New legends in waiting…they’ll never be McKissick.

Football, the game, was evolving from a straight-ahead, three yards and a cloud of dust, bust you in the chops game to a more pass-happy, spread you out, finesse rather than smack you in the face game.  Honestly, I don’t recognize it sometimes.

I’m sure Coach McKissick changed how he attacked other people’s Os with his Xs but I’m also sure he never changed the way he coached.  You don’t have to change the way you coach when you coach kids and not a game.

Rest in peace Coach McKissick, rest in peace.

Featured image from USA Today, (Photo: Associated Press)

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM