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A kid and a dog

Bo Meredith was the penultimate darling little boy – round face, apple cheeks, floppy red hair and a glorious Lone Ranger’s mask of rusty freckles, ear to ear. Terry, his mother, the daughter of a Lutheran preacher from somewhere in the Midwest, had been coming to Pomona Beach Church off and on for six months.

Terry Meredith did the weather show on channel 9 – early morning shift with occasional features. When she came to church, she seemed to make the entire sanctuary shine. She was the closest thing the church had to a real celebrity.

The Sunday in question wasn’t the first time Bo had raised his hand during prayer time. He always waited patiently, took a mic from the usher, stood and asked for prayer for his father’s head cold, for his teacher’s new baby or for his friend Josh who was moving somewhere across the country. Pastor Jack was not unaware that the little boy’s impromptu petitions brought more pure joy into the sanctuary than whatever new hymn the praise team had worked up – or the oldies, for that matter.

This time, it was his dog.

“Yes,” little Bo said, when Jack called on him. He stood and his mother nudged the mic up closer to his mouth. “We got this new dog – a brown one.” He looked around to make sure that everyone was listening – amazing stage presence. “And I’m trying to teach him to do his toi-toi outside.”

Giggles all around. Pastor Jack tried not to smile. Terry raised her hand to her face to hide a blush.

“Mom says that he’s got to learn or else he’s got to go.”

Sherm Hof laughed out loud. The sound of his ripsaw guffaw awakened everyone to the odd twist of Bo’s silly pun, and just like that laughter crackled across the sanctuary.

Which made Bo a little miffed. He didn’t mean this petition to be funny, so he looked around and the whole congregation suffered his furrowed eyebrows. “I love Henny,” he said. Henny had to be the dog. “But my dog has to learn to go outside.”

“Henny,” Pastor Jack said. “We’ll remember Henny.”

Andy Farragut was wiping his eyes. Cordell Lanenburg was shaking his head in disbelief, and Shar, Pastor Jack’s wife, sitting with the praise team, wore her characteristic naughty smile.

Joys and concerns
Jack had long ago discovered that some moments in the “Joys and Concerns” part should really shut down the process. When some members would, in tears, announce unexpected deaths, he’d end the opportunity for sharing, but after Bo Meredith’s concerns about doggy do-do, he wanted more requests, a bundle more.

“Others?” he said, smiling.

But no one raised a hand. He looked down at the names he’d scratched on the back of the consistory minutes – the Adamson’s grandmother’s cancer, Barry Sanderson’s uncle, the Markham’s relatives here from somewhere east, starving in west Africa, and Pearl Smith’s effusive thanks for a great holiday season for her and her family.

“I don’t know if there is an encore,” he told the congregation, “but does anyone have anything else we should take to the Lord?”

He looked out over the chairs, hoping that someone might have something else so that not every last soul in the pews would be anxiously awaiting how he’d handle a pup’s housetraining. But the dog’s toilet habits had already blown cancer and death out of the water, and besides he really didn’t know yet how he was going to say what needed to be said – would he ask God to enter the heart of this dog and make him see the errors of his ways? How was he going to talk about it without turning the whole event into stand-up comedy?

No hands.
“Then let’s turn to the Lord in prayer.”

He started in on the cold snap and what it might be doing to the citrus farmers up north, how it was testing all of them and even turning the sanctuary cold (some people were wearing winter coats). He alluded to the death of lots and lots of vegetation, and the blizzards way up north where most of the congregation had relatives. The reference point was the overwhelming power of God Almighty, manifest in last week’s exceptional icy air that tumbled down from the north like a tidal surge.

That this God loved us – that was the joy. That this God of wind and rain and cold so potent it could turn south Florida chilly and gray, that this God loved mankind . . . that’s what he said because that’s what he thought.

And that put him in mind of the hurricane – the one that had come ashore in September, long before the snowbirds had come, at Landis Beach, an hour south.

It was the hurricane that became the focus of his prayer, even though he hadn’t planned it that way, even though it had struck several months earlier; but he’d spent two days himself carting trash away that week, and he’d seen homeowners whose considerable tears still hadn’t washed away that crushed and vacant look disaster always creates. Those people – and he mentioned some he’d met, by name – garnered most of his attention in that congregational prayer, until it was time to wind down and he went through the list scratched on the back of the bulletin.

Except Bo Meredith.

There was no excuse for his simply having forgotten the kid and his dog. It was unbelievable that he could.

But he did.

So when he said amen, he looked up at the congregation and knew immediately that he’d committed some horrific sin. Five seconds – that’s all it took, maybe less. Bo Meredith’s dog’s toilet-training lit up in the darkness in his mind. He’d forgotten the dog. He’d forgotten the kid’s dog.

“One more thing,” he said. And then, like a father before his children, he publicly re-folded his hands. Everyone followed his lead, understanding exactly what he was up to. Then he prayed for the dog – well, not for the dog exactly, but for Bo and the dog. For a moment he thought about praying for Bo’s mom’s unforgiving heart, but he assumed that would be pushing things. He said he hoped that the Meredith’s new puppy would bring joy into the life of the family. And then, once again, he said amen.

The congregation seemed much more appreciative. They were all smiles.

Terry Meredith called him on Tuesday.

“Did you see my feature?” she said. He had. She’d taken a camera crew to Landis Beach and done a video essay – no voice-over whatsoever – a two-minute series of shots of people still digging out of the mess, close-ups of the devastation, close-ups of the people.

“Your prayer last Sunday,” she said, “it made me think about going back there – it’s so easy to forget, you know? It’s been months now and it’s not over for those people.”

“It was very powerful,” he said. “Nicely done.”

“Thanks,” she said. “You know, there’s an old adage from the theater–” she told him, “never share the spots with a kid or a dog – something like that.” And then there was silence. “You just get upstaged.”

“I hadn’t heard that one,” he said.

“Can we do that to the Lord?” she asked.

“I’m not following,” he said.

“I wonder – you know, about Bo and the dog? Can we make God silly?”

“I don’t think we can make God anything,” he said. “God is God.”

“That’s not what I mean,” she told him. “In our minds – can we make him look less than he is?”

“I suppose the best answer for that is that we can never make him all that he is – we just don’t get it all. We probably never will.”

“But we can shrink him, can’t we?” she said. “And we like doing it, too. We can make him a pet.”

Jack had a sense of where this was going. “If you’re saying that you shouldn’t have let Bo say what he did–”

“I’m not saying that,” she said. “But you know, you’ve been to Landis Beach. You know what those people are still going through?”

“I was there last week,” he said, “lugging out broken drywall.”

Behind her, he could hear the sounds of something frying on the stove. “Well, I just thought I’d tell you that Henny’s doing okay – hitting the papers quite regularly now. It’s as if somebody up there heard the request.”

Jack laughed.

And then she waited again. “I don’t care, Jack,” she told him. “I’m going to tell him that the whole church doesn’t need to know that – is that wrong?”

“You’re his mother,” he said.

“I met a woman today – 74 years old. She’s got family in upstate New York, but they don’t visit much, you know?”

He’d been in Florida long enough to know the type – deserted, lonely.

“This woman’s really got nothing now. I don’t know. That seems so huge.”

“And you’re thinking about toi-toi?” he said.

“Maybe I’m too Lutheran.”

“Everybody loved it,” he said.

“That’s what I mean,” she said. “The dog got his own prayer.”

“You’re too Lutheran,” he told her.

“Yeah,” she said, “maybe I am. Well, I just wondered if you saw the feature.”

“It was wonderful,” he told her again.

“Maybe I am too Lutheran,” she said. “I’ll work on it.” And then she hung up.

“So,” Jack’s wife said, “is the dog doing his thing outside?”

“Everything’s honky-dory,” he said.

Shar looked up and smiled. “What a doll – that kid. I swear, I’ll never forget it – doggy doo-doo. What a hoot!”

“Anything else?” he said.

“What do you mean?” Shar asked.

“I mean, do you remember anything else?”

“Remember?–”

“From the prayers – on Sunday? Do you remember anything else?”

“How can you with a kid like that saying what he did? – I mean, he stole the whole show, Jack. You know that.”

“I guess he did,” Jack said.

Author

  • James is a retired Professor of English and the author of more than 40 books, most recently Looking for Dawn (2018).

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