© Copyright James Grippando 2006
I write outdoors. Writing in my own backyard connects me to the Florida setting that figures so prominently in all ten of my novels. My outdoor office has these essentials: a patio table and chair, a big shade umbrella, a laptop computer, a hammock, a hot tub, and a swimming pool. The cell phone is optional.
For the past nine years, my office mate and principal workday diversion was my Golden Retriever. Sam lay at my feet as I wrote, and every time I stood up for a break, he would dash toward the swimming pool. He loved the pool, which is somewhat ironic. He was born in a puppy mill and never saw a blade of grass until we took him home at twelve weeks. At the time, I wasn’t even looking for a pet, and it was actually my best friend who bought him. After just twenty-four hours, my friend decided that he couldn’t handle a dog and wanted to return him. “He’s not a shirt,” I told him, “you can’t just take him back.” The truth was, I was already in love with Sam, and I couldn’t stand the thought of him going back to that mill. So my wife and I adopted him, even though Tiffany was in her eighth month, pregnant with our first child. Sam would be there for the birth of all three of our children. He was in some ways our “first,” but more like our “fourth,” loyally and dutifully taking his place a notch lower on the totem pole with each new addition to the family. He never seemed to mind when the kids tugged at his ears and tail or climbed up on his back. In fact, I’d say he loved it.
Sam was always good for a diversion, or a laugh. He was so crazy as a puppy that my daughter renamed him “Sammy Cu-koo.” He didn’t discover his bark until he was almost two years old, and that strange sound coming from his own mouth nearly scared him half to death. He brought the newspaper to my “office” every morning, and then, without fail, he would head for the pool. He’d get his toy, drop it at my feet, and lay there until I was ready to break away from my computer and play with him. My job was to toss his toy into the pool. He would wait for it to sink all the way to the bottom. As soon as I said “Get it, Sam,” he’d dive in head first and bring it up from the depths. It was our little “stupid pet trick,” which he never got tired of.
Sam and I did eleven novels in nine years together, all in our outdoor office.
In December 2005 life was finally getting back to normal after all the hurricane clean up. Sam, however, seemed anything but normal. We thought he had a cold. By New Year’s Day he really wasn’t himself, so we took him to the vet. It wasn’t a cold or the flu. It was cancer. His liver was shutting down. Our vet ran tests, but the news just kept getting worse. After keeping him overnight, she said it was time to think about putting him to sleep. She assured us that Sam was not in pain, so we brought him home on Friday morning. He actually perked up a little at home, but we knew he was very sick. By Friday night, we were able to interest him in taking water, Gatorade and chicken soup from a syringe. The soup made his tail wag, our last glimpse of the old Sammy. We feared that on Monday morning we would have to take him back to the vet for the last time.
On Saturday night, Sam wanted to sleep at the far end of the house, where he’d never slept before. We laid him on a blanket, made him comfortable, hugged and kissed him goodnight, and went to bed. At two a.m., I woke suddenly. I went to his spot, but he was gone. I checked around the house but couldn’t find him. Finally, I saw. He had forced himself up and hobbled over to the door to our daughter’s bedroom. He was in one of his favorite spots, close to the children. It was there that he died.
Later that morning, for the first time in almost ten years, I walked to the end of the driveway and got the Sunday newspaper myself. On the front page of the Miami Herald book section was a rave review for Got the Look , my new book. Without question, it the most glowing review I had ever received as an author. My wife read it and wept. “Honey,” I said, “it’s a great review, but it’s just a review .” She pointed to the byline. “The guy who wrote it,” she said. “His name is Sam.”
Tiffany is no Shirley McClain, but she doesn’t believe in meaningless coincidences, either. How could it be that the best review I’d ever received appeared on this morning, of all mornings, and had been written by a reviewer named Sam? I didn’t know what to make of it, but I didn’t dwell on it. I had to take our Sam’s body to the vet for cremation.
When I returned, my son was playing in the yard. He came into the house and asked, “Daddy, what are those balloons doing in our swimming pool?” I had no idea what he was talking about. I went outside. Sure enough, two balloons were floating in our pool, tied together with a long blue ribbon.
I can only surmise that, somewhere around us, there had been a child’s birthday party on Saturday afternoon. These helium balloons had broken free, drifted overnight, and finally come to rest on our property. It seems only fitting that they landed in our swimming pool. In Sam’s pool. On the day he died.
James Grippando is the national bestselling author of ten novels, including his latest, Got the Look. He writes in Coral Gables, where he lives with his wife, Tiffany, and their three children, Kaylee, Ryan and Ainsley. They will never forget Sam.