Ruth Bass: On Thanksgiving, 'thank you' carries more meaning

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RICHMOND — "Thank you" comes out of our mouths so often that the phrase is noticed more by absence than utterance. When she was running for president, Hillary Clinton commented that she started her day by thinking about something she was grateful for, an idea we adopted until we forgot. But on Thursday comes the day when everyone gets as stuffed as the turkey and gives thanks for some of life's treasures.

For me, it's a time to be thankful for a son and two daughters and the terrific people they married, plus six grandchildren who were adored as babies and who every year continue to become fascinating adults. And even if no one else proposes a toast to Milt, I'll drink silently to the 54 best years of my life and remember his glow when he sat at the head of a table filled with good food and surrounded by the descendants we created.

This year I will also give thanks for 12 years with my steadfast Tracer, a handsome little Sheltie whose eagerness to begin each new day was especially important in the five years that Milt has been gone. We said goodbye to Tracer in August, and time has not dried all the tears. Dogs take up a lot of space even when they've been reduced to ashes in a small box.

He was faithfully under the table to scoop up crumbs or eat a fallen jigsaw puzzle piece. Now my puzzles have fewer missing pieces, and the electric broom is more active. I fill the dishwasher without someone trying to lick a few spoons or forks — and even with declining hearing, he heard the dishwasher door squeak from three rooms away. He was such an optimist: People making sandwiches would spill; if he stayed very still, the groomer or the vet would stop what they were doing; in a house with toddlers, his post was under the high chair.

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If Tracer ever had a bad day, it was when we did the environmental switch to cloth napkins. Like many Shelties, he loved to shred paper, so without touching the human's clothes, he would pull napkins from anyone's lap, so stealthily that you didn't know until you saw him sneaking away.

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Tracer watched squirrels, robins and chipmunks from two low windows. When a mean chipmunk stood on the steps on his hind legs, perfectly safe, and waggled his head at Tracer, he would get so crazed that I had to open and slam the door to get rid of the torturer. He wanted every robin to fly but watched hummingbirds in fascination and would come running at the word "hummer." As a puppy, he'd stand for an hour on a kitchen chair to watch chickadees quietly, but his bark would send a bear back to the woods.

You could toss balls or toys for him for an hour, and he'd tear after them, then start back. With toys, he liked two at once and hopscotched them over each other. With balls, as grandson Jake pointed out, he played soccer, passing the ball from one paw to the other but, nearing the goal, he would never give them up.

The literature says Shelties are remarkably sensitive and intelligent. This boy was both, and a worrier, too. When Milt was in the hospital, I'd come home to Tracer's greeting, and he'd be looking past my shoulder to see if I'd brought his other best friend with me. He wasn't always a snuggler, but if you were sick, he only left your bed for mealtime. After my husband was gone, he would break my heart by sniffing and pawing at the spot where Milt sat on the couch and then curling up on the other end.

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He was patient with me. At 11, he quit kibble and told me by picking each pellet out of the dish and placing it on the floor. So, he went on special food — which involved hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, lettuce - and would watch every phase of the preparation. A dab of peanut butter was his bowl of ice cream. If I paused outdoors to pull weeds, he'd immediately sit and stare at the view, knowing it could be awhile. He knew Cheerios lived in my pocket and would plant himself, wistfully staring in that direction until I fished them out.

Last week's white mornings would have been his favorites, time to scoop snow with his long nose, leap in the air to catch flakes on his tongue. He never cared about "bad" weather as long as his paws didn't freeze. If that happened, he'd hold up the offending one and expect me to shed gloves and warm it. For the past five years, he listened and at least pretended to understand. Now I'm like Shirley Valentine, talking to a wall that doesn't wag. But I give thanks for my time with that sweet boy.

Ruth Bass is an award-winning journalist. Her website is The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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