by Andilyn Jenkins
In 1998, I skated my Yellow Labrador, Ginger, to the park around the corner from my house. At eight years old, I discovered my own version of “walking the dog.” I had tried running with her to the park, but she was too fast and too strong for me. And “walking” was not a word in her limited vocabulary. So in a risk-taking mood, I strapped on my roller blades; wrapped her once-blue, sun-bleached leash three times around my right hand; held her warm, slimy tennis ball in my left hand; and unlatched our back gate while she danced for freedom and nosed her way around me, bolting for the park as though she wouldn’t know fresh air until her paws hit the Bermuda grass. My blonde hair danced behind me as the hot wind blushed my cheeks, and I consciously remember thinking that if my in-line skates hit a rock, I might die. Of course, I never thought to wear knee pads or a helmet. Ginger raced, her neck bearing my 54 pounds seemingly effortlessly. And yet, her pink tongue with that one black spot dangled from her smiling mouth as she huffed heavily from the sprint.
The “park,” in this case, is a euphemistic way of saying retention basin with a yellow slide and a wooden picnic table carved and graffitied with names, hearts, and countless expletives. But for a blonde girl and her yellow lab, this park was everything we needed. Valencia orange trees made up the perimeter of the retention basin free for the picking. And Ginger spent the first fifteen minutes sniffing various patches of grass, apparently catching up with old friends and leaving notes of her own. Then the retriever in Ginger came alive as I sat on the top of the hill digging the pointed end of my CTR ring into the orange peel to get it started. And as I peeled the sticky orange, Ginger trotted up the grass and dropped her slobbery ball in my lap. Then she stood back and hopped around, while I teased with puckered lips, “Who-wants-za-ball? You-gonna-get-it? Get-za-ball,” and pitifully chucked it through the air with all my 54 pounds. She was back in seconds. And so we played. I wiped slobber on my jeans and popped orange wedges into my mouth only to spit out the seeds and sometimes the whole wedge altogether after sucking all the juice from it. Ginger dashed back and forth from me to the bottom of the hill, pausing occasionally when she caught an intriguing scent on the breeze.
In loving memory of a great dog, and an even better friend.