How can you bury your hopes at Christmas? You can’t. That’s how Dusty found his Phoenix.

Dusty is just enough Willie. For Christmas.

Photo by: Sherman Geronimo-Tan

The Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie stories are fiction. I sometimes get pissed-off emails from people who don’t get that – when Willie is playing with real-world stuff they know about. But every Willie story is based hugely in real-world stuff. The best argument for de Vere is de Vere, and Willie tells you what he sees through my eyes.

Dusty is fiction, an allegory about family, but it draws on my real life – in Willie’s typical mix ’n’ match fashion. It’s a little book, just enough Willie. This scene is entirely made up, but it’s still a sweet reflection of my own mother and my relationship with her:

“I was thinking about when your mom came to Show Low.”

That was Adora on the phone, a lifeline. The sun was up behind me, but, still, she must have set an alarm to be with me. That’s what family does? That’s what Adora did, anyway.

“There was a snake, a rattler. We were out walking in the woods, me and Amanda and Megwyn. Meg couldn’t have been seven, but she was leading, like always. We came up on this big old Diamondback, spinning up dust and thoroughly outraged.”

You should take a moment to be petrified. If a snake like that wants you dead, you’re dead. He’ll be dead, too, starved to death in a few days for having wasted all his venom on vermin, but you’ll be dead in minutes, not days. Meanwhile, there is a tiny mammal locked somewhere in your brain who knows without reason to be terrified of snakes.

“Your mom was about to wet her pants, but Megwyn calmed her down just like that. She said, ‘Just take it easy. We’re too big for him to swallow. He just wants us to get out of his way.’”

I said, “That’s just exactly right.”

“Of course it is, but until then Amanda saw Meg as a kid. Suddenly she was the grown-up, and your mom was the kid.”

I smiled at that, smiled at the windshield, smiled at the road. “I’ll bet she saw me.”

I could hear Adora’s smile through the phone. “I’ll bet she did.”

“I was the man of her family, except when my dumbass dad was around. I was always charging into things, and she always let me. I led our family in every way I could, as young as I could. She never gave me more than I could handle, but she always let me take as much as I was ready for.”

“So you always took more, of course.”

I shrugged. “What do you call a man who asks permission? A boy. I was more man that I should have been, I guess, and at too young an age. But I got good at doing what I was doing. And I got good at getting away with it.”

We chatted when we could, and I drove with all I had. Later, with Missouri well behind me, she said, “How’s Dusty taking the trip?”

“He’s phlegmatic.” That was an exaggeration. He was asnooze. He took no responsibility for any spin I might put on that status. “He’ll be okay. A dog alone is lost. A dog with a new family is working out how to fit in.”

“Naso will be glad to have another dog in the pack. She’s had about enough of all these cats.”

Naso was my bloodhound bitch, the wonderful dog I met in the White Mountains a long time ago, the dog who brought me Megwyn and then Adora – the dog who changed the course of my life. She was old already, and she died seven months after this, and I all but left Dusty out of the stories of her dying. Why? Because my mom had just died, and I didn’t want to talk about it. I still don’t.

I said, “Dusty’ll teach her how to walk a straight line, for once in her life – just like I did for you.”

She giggled, a wordless little sound that speaks volumes, and that was more than enough.

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