Gerard’s mother at work in The Melvin.

My Fair Hill friend and I

Man's best friend can earn a special place in anyone's heart as Gerard Smith recalls in a beautiful way this week in his WordSmith column...

Often I go for a lunch time walk up Fair Green Hill – past the remnants of St Brigid’s Terrace, slowing when I reach my old home street, Jubilee. There’s a little dog I meet, we stop and weigh-each other up, warily. The other day, I offered him my hand. After a thorough sniffing he approved; we’ve now become friends. I find myself looking forward to his waggy-tailed canter towards me when he catches my scent.

When I moved to Jubilee, I found it hard to settle. Then, I didn’t know what ‘resentment’ was. Now, I know it was festering inside me. One evening it exploded, splattering snotty tears of resentment over my parents, “You took me away from my friends…my brother and sister… I’ve nothing here.” I stopped when I saw their shocked faces. They didn’t know I’d been harbouring these feelings; I felt bad for my splurge. Mam was quick to reassure me, “It’ll take time…” I apologised for my outburst and made a note not to burden them further.

At half-term; I skipped home happy to have a week off from a school I was struggling to find my place in. Dad was in the kitchen, he called out, “Gerard, come here.” Immediately, I noticed something amiss, “Where’s the bath gone?” Our plastic bath hung from the back door. Dad looked down, “Under the table there, pull it out.” I was puzzled, more so when I saw it lined with towels. When I heard a squeal my heart leapt – “Dad, there’s a dog in the bath!”

My head couldn’t compute, “Whose is it?” I asked. Dad said, “Ours, what will you call him?” I picked up the writhing bundle, a Jack-Russel puppy, and said, “Hello Chad.” Dad nodded proudly, “Chad is a pure-bred.”

Chad found it hard to settle in Jubilee. He’d cry all night. Dad said, “He’s pining for his mother.” He wrapped a clock in a towel and nestled it into Chad’s bed. “The ticking will remind him of his mother’s heartbeat, it might settle him.”

And, it did. Like a good new-born, Chad started sleeping through the night.

A few years later, Chad and I were settled and inseparable. The three of us vied for his affection. He’d walk Mam to her job in the Melvin (now The Oak Rooms). After school, he waited for me in the pub’s yard, we’d walk home together. Dad took him for his evening walk.

Weekends were our thing. We’d ramble for miles; me telling him my troubles and woes, he was a great listener.

Chad was friendly and fearless. In retrospect, it was probably those attributes that contributed to his disappearance. One afternoon, he wasn’t waiting for me at the pub. “He’ll turn up,” said Mam. When he didn’t, I scoured every corner of Cavan, calling, “CHAD!” A week later, still no sign of him. A month later, the bath was back on the kitchen door. We were bereft.

Time moved on and whilst the hurt of Chad’s loss lessened, the ‘not knowing’ what happened to him gnawed at me. Soon, my school days were over – Art College in Dublin beckoned.

A week before I started college I was in the Melvin stacking shelves. When Mam rushed towards me I instinctively sensed what was coming – “Chad’s back!” Before I could react, she shook her head and handed me a towel, “Go out to the yard; it’s not good – I’m finishing early to go to the vets.”

In the yard, my beloved Chad cowered in a corner. The abuse he’d endured was evident on his scar-ridden face and body. While wrapping him in the towel he tried to bite me, but didn’t have the strength. I carried him into the bar; a man looked at him, “That wee dog has been used for fighting…” I didn’t want to hear that, but I did.

I took him home, in the hope his final memory would be of where he was lavished and loved. When Mam arrived he managed a weary but happy-tail-wag. That afternoon, he went to the vets and over the rainbow-bridge.

Today, my Fair Hill friend and I have boundaries, it’s a quick hello and head-pat before we go our separate ways. I don’t want him to become too trusting of human strangers, because…


WordSmith: A solemn parade over hill and glade