There we were, standing at the Honolulu airport, up to our noses in the sweetest of all sweet-smelling flower leis. With flowers of more shades than I ever thought possible. Later, I learned their names. Then, I was just in awe. One of the strangers that had so kindly scheduled this welcome trip into her Saturday afternoon said loudly, "Welcome to your family!"
My mother leaned in close to me. "But not all of us are here. We're missing one," she whispered. True. We were definitely missing one, and my heart sunk a little as my flower-induced trance burst with my remembering.
We were a family with four people, and one dog. One smiley Golden Retriever dog named Darby. She was four years old, but still acted like a puppy. We all loved her too much to discipline her. She was enthusiastic about...well, about pretty much everything from someone's homecoming to peanut butter, from popcorn my mom "accidently" dropped on the floor to our horse's manure (ew). She showed her enthusiasm with a furry tail wag, nose in your face, paws as high up on your body as she could manage, and an undeniable, big grin. She was a lump of love.
I moped my way to Hawaii for many reasons (that I mentioned here and in yesterday's blog post), but yet another reason was Darby. In 1987, Hawaii had never had a case of rabies. To prevent any cases from arriving onto the island, any animals that arrived had to be quarantined. Some military families didn't want their pets to be quarantined so gave them away to family or friends until they returned to the mainland to claim them. Dogs were quarantined at a facility about an hour from our house. Each dog paced, fretted, slept, and missed their people in a 3' by 8' cement area that looked eerily cell-like, despite the fact that they'd done nothing wrong.
My dad called it The Stalag. I'm pretty sure I was in the minority of gap-toothed fifth graders who knew about these German prisoner-of-war camps.
Poor Darby didn't know what she'd done. As we chose rooms (I chose more wisely this time), unpacked boxes, visited our new school, and adjusted to life with sand between our toes, Darby sat in her cell by herself. Knowing she was there definitely dampened our moods, even though we were officially living in paradise.
Visitation was allowed, and we did visit our poor Darby. (There were some dogs that never got visitors! How sad!) She'd smell us before we got there and bark with excitement and jump like crazy up on the fence-door. Her furry body wiggled and wagged as we entered her sad little world. We were not allowed to walk her or bathe her or take her out, so we just sat with her. We'd sit with her, pet her, kiss her, hug her, and reassure her that we missed her. Because man, we really did.
Leaving her after a visit was traumatic for everyone involved. It was so sad--I know we all cried many times because she'd yelp and whine, making the saddest sounds that seemed to find their way over the Stalag and follow us all the way to our cars. Or, sometimes, she just wagged her tail silently, her dark eyes watching her people walk away, wondering when she'd see us again. To be blunt, the Stalag sucked. Mostly for Darby, but it wasn't easy for us, either. That sad place definitely stole a bit of her spirit.
Then, the day came. Six months was finally behind us. It was time: JAILBREAK! Our whole family got in our car, finally with a leash and collar in our hands. We walked the well-worn path to Darby's cell, past all the other dogs that barked hopefully that we might pet them a little on our way to our own pet. Nope. This day, our eyes were just on Darby. It was time to take her home. Finally! My sister and I put the collar around her neck. We clipped the leash on her and RAN out of there. Nobody was moving faster than the golden blur of fur--we laughed and ran, cried happy tears and sprinted to the car. We ran to get home, and we ran away from the Stalag that we wanted to forget as quickly as possible.
We put a sweet-smelling lei around the neck of our now-slightly-bigger lump of love and finally giving her the warm aloha welcome that Darby deserved.