I don’t count years to measure my life. I count epochs—dog epochs. It is said we might own six dogs in our lives and, if we’re lucky, they will teach us about the tenets of companionship and compassion. I am halfway there, having owned three perfect pooches.
When I was 11, we raised a barrel-chested Chesapeake Labrador retriever named Flip. While I did my best Huck Finn routine wading through creeks or bushwhacking in forests hunting Civil War bullets, the dog dutifully tagged along. Or rather, he seemed to reel me in as he barked at the late-day shadows as a reminder to head home. Flip’s great heart gave out after 14 years. My post-college dog was Maggie, a black Labrador, purchased (unwisely) with a girl I’d been dating. Maggie’s passion was water. I lived alongside a lake, so her morning swims chasing mallards were legendary. When the girlfriend and I broke up after a few years, guilt forced me to concede Maggie in the settlement of our lives. I never saw Maggie again and often wonder how her life played out. It involved water, I’m guessing.
Next came Sam, a Golden retriever I’ve written about in this space. Sam died on a Friday morning this winter. I stayed with him in front of the hearth all night, rubbing his cancer-stricken stomach and whispering to him about the past 13 years. My wife and I purchased this Golden as a pup from a Virginia farmer. We were newlyweds living in an old house we’d just bought. We joked that he was our first-born. The chapter that followed—three children who learned to walk while using Sam’s back as a crutch—was long and sweet, with romps through woods and on beaches, and a determined spirit to catch just one squirrel in his lifetime (he never caught one, but even in his dotage, the boy never gave up). The hardest thing about letting Sam go was admitting that this heavenly epoch was over.
Naturally, we also mark time by the homes we own. Whether they were sublime (a cozy fishing cabin from childhood) or dreadful (a split-level with a leaky roof), these spaces help define eras in our mental scrapbooks. After all, how often do you catch yourself saying, “Remember that place we lived in when the kids were born” or, “Can you believe we used to fit all those people around Thanksgiving table?” Sure, some of these housing benchmarks are cringe-worthy, but we continue to learn from them as we prepare for the next home.
We can help, too. I think you’ll love our guide to building simple cabins
which showcases our favorite ideas for building a modest-size masterpiece. Our old friend Jim Cooper, the magazine’s resident building pro, also gets into the act. We asked him to tackle one of his favorite subjects: building fewer square feet while keeping tight reins on the budget. And if you’d like your not-so-big house to boast plenty of character, don’t miss our Home Products Guide
. You’ll be well on your way to creating a new housing epoch.
My family’s next canine epoch comes in the form of a yellow Lab named Marley (pictured). We adopted him from a rescue agency. When I walked up to him for the first time, his eyes told me he was kind and gentle. They have not lied. He is 2, with a head the size of a cinderblock and a soft coat my children can’t stop petting. The fur on his haunches is worn—perhaps from being left outside by previous owners—but it’s growing in nicely as he luxuriates upon a new bed purchased for his lordship.
Marley is just what we needed, and it feels like he’s always been around. It’s heartening how creatures, large and small, can adapt and merge wonderfully into the new.