The man to the right is, I believe, my dad.
The man to the left is, I am 100-percent certain, Max.
Back when I was, oh, 12 or 13, Max moved into the house across the street on Emerald Lane. He belonged to a family, the Digioias, who consisted of a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister. I remember being excited by new neighbors, and ESPECIALLY excited when I saw the new neighbors had a golden retriever named Max.
Before the dog arrived, we had a pretty strict no-canine thing in our house. My mom was genuinely afraid of dogs, and I vividly (and warmly) remember us taking long walks on cool summer evenings, and Mom sort of scurrying behind me whenever she heard a bark. So, I’m guessing, my mother was probably a little leery of Max at first, especially when he’d come bounding across our lawn to hang out.
Before long, however, we sorta thought of Max as one of our own. He was on our deck all the time, collecting scratches and, on his lucky days, saltine crackers. I specifically recall flipping Max pieces of Matzoh come April, making him Mahopac’s lone Italian-Jewish dog. You would toss the unleavened bread into the air, and Max would pop up on his hinds and—CHOMP!—grab it.
Max had sass. Max had character. Max was no dummy. There was one cold winter day when Max was somehow left outside as the Digioias left the house. I looked out the front door, and Max was limping across his yard. I pointed out the pathetic sight to Mom and said, “We have to let him in. He’s hurt.” My mother wasn’t thrilled, but she gave in. I called Max, and he limp-limp-limped on over and into the entrance. We pet him, and gave him some crackers and when the Digioias returned home, and Max heard their car … he BURST out the door and sprinted home. In other words, he played us. And I loved it.
Max was great company for walks. He swam through swamps, chased other dogs, protected us from strangers. Once we found him two miles away from our street in downtown Mahopac, and—again, begging Mom—we put him in the back seat and drove him home.
God, I loved that dog.
He died, I believe, when I was in college. I knew he was aging; knew he had some bad legs. But the news still hit me hard.
Max wasn’t my dog.
But he was my brother of faith.