The Time Machine
Copyright 2006 by Courtney Burback
Our glassy-eyed golden retriever isn’t your
ordinary canine. Copper spends his days looking for a reason to wag
his tail, entering rooms with incredible enthusiasm (then looking
confused as he struggles to remember why he wanted to be
there), and relentlessly nudging guests with his wet nose until they finally give a frustrated sigh and pet him in defeat.
But Copper’s true talents are displayed when a work weary, fifty-something man shuffles through the front door,
briefcase in hand, and makes his way to the living room. Suddenly the dog’s ears fly toward the ceiling and his eyes
brighten as if he has just won some sort of canine lottery. This is where Copper works his real magic; in about five
seconds he will leap from the floor and work feverishly to elicit a smile from my father’s face. Once he’s secured a
grin, the dog won’t stop until he has my dad rolling on the floor, jumping around the room, making squeals and growls
that rival his own. In short: Copper settles for no less than transforming my father into a ten-year-old boy.
After the death of Buffy, our grizzled and bear-like
golden retriever, we were all too sullen to even think about another
dog. Buffy had been a quiet, grumpy gal that stared at us if we were insane if we dared to throw a ball and utter the
word “fetch.” More of a furry doorstop than Rin Tin Tin, she had the persona of a ninety year-old man by age two. But
we loved her dearly, and when she passed we were heartbroken. My mom was especially forlorn- no one dared to
suggest a new companion- and we spent the next few months in a house without wagging tails and belly rubs.
We didn’t seek out Copper; he wooed us from
afar. An associate at my father’s real estate firm heard that
pet had passed and his eyes lit up. “What a coincidence,” he blurted. “We have a dog we’re trying to get rid of.” Though “dog we’re trying to get rid of” may not have been the best opening sales pitch, my dad listened as his colleague
described a remarkable animal that had boundless energy, was always inventing new games to play, and would play
fetch until he dropped dead if you let him. “Alright,” said my dad. “If Super dog is so terrific, why is he on the market?”
His friend explained that with the recent expansion
of his family, his wife felt the household had become too hectic
with three children and two large dogs. “She says either one of the kids go, or one of the dogs,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that she was hinting to get rid of one of the dogs.” Since they had acquired their other retriever before Copper, the
family had made the reluctant decision to let the younger pup go. “He’s an amazing dog,” said his coworker. “Come
with me after work and I promise you’ll fall in love.” My dad was still on the fence. “Dave, did I mention this dog is a
Something compelled my father to ignore the cloud of
gloom Buffy’s death had caused and several hours later he
found himself in the presence of a strange-looking, lanky animal with bulging black eyes and silky auburn hair (unusual coloring for a breed normally adorned with a buttery blonde coat). Copper was beautiful in his own way, with the
delicate bone structure of a deer and a petite body that constantly led people to misjudge his gender. But my dad was
instantly sucked in by the retriever’s playful nature and his eagerness to make an admirer out of the new guest. They
went outside and my father watched Copper leap through the air, somersaulting and springing like a gazelle, as his ball
was tossed across a sea of grass. No dog in the history of the world enjoyed fetching a bouncing object as much as this
one; he would bring back the ball with a look that said, “God bless you for throwing this!”
Three days later my brother picked me up from my
afternoon college class in his black jeep, and as I climbed inside a
tongue flew at me from the shadows and lapped at my face. And so Copper had become ours.
My mom had taken some convincing, but the little
retriever had charmed her just as he had my father, and soon the
house was filled with the energy of skittering paws and a wagging tail. The moment Copper arrived he seemed to sense
the residue of sorrow left by our recently deceased pet, and it was as if he made a vow to work extra hard to cheer us
But it was my father who benefited most from Copper’s
presence. One evening the rest of the family was chatting in the
kitchen when we heard a horrific roar echo through the house.
Piercing snarls and bloodcurdling growls flew from the
living room in a frightening torrent. My father had been watching golf on the couch- now it sounded as if he was being
ripped apart by a feral animal. When we hurried to the living room we were treated to a most amusing sight: Copper
and my dad were on the floor, wrestling as if they were training for the WWF. Though Copper was emitting noises that
made our blood freeze, his tail was wagging so hard that it looked as if it were about to unhinge from his body and fly
across the room.
“Come on,” my dad was laughing. “Is that all you’ve got?”
Copper playfully lunged at him, giving him a head butt, then darted back and forth, taunting his opponent.
“You want a piece of this?” my dad crowed. “Come and get it!”
They locked bodies and fell to the carpet. Copper
continued to make ferocious noises, but his eyes were smiling as he
nudged my dad with his nose and fell in an ecstatic heap across his chest.
As I watched them play I was struck by the rosy glow
that emanated from my father’s face. The crinkles in the corner
his eyes, the lightly creased brow from years of work and stress, the body that had begun to move a little more stiffly-
all of these seemed to melt away in the presence of this dog. I could tell by my mother’s expression that she was seeing
the same thing I was- not a middle-aged man with mortgage payments and work deadlines- but a ten year-old boy.
My dad had always been the more serious member of the
family. He was quick to become agitated if a household
appliance was misbehaving, and we often joked about the throbbing vein on his forehead that would explode one day if
he didn’t mellow out. But around Copper he was a different person, transforming into a carefree child, grinning and
laughing with his beloved pet.
Guests who were unfamiliar with Copper’s
vicious fighting noises would watch, petrified, as my father incited
into a whirling dervish of paws and snarls.
“Come on, Cujo!” he’d antagonize, much to the dog’s delight. “Keep it coming!”
Once people realized that Copper hadn’t gone
rabid and was simply trying his best to be a convincing opponent,
faces would relax and a smile would spread across their lips as they watched my dad go through his transformation.
They too were rendered silent with awe as the scrawny golden retriever cast his spell, like a time machine, and the boy
my dad had once been was revealed.
Though this dog has managed to elicit a kind of
silliness in each of us, it is my father Copper targets most. A
face at the end of a long workday is his cue to prance around my dad until he drops to all fours and engages in a hearty
wrestling match, my father’s age suddenly indiscernible. In return for Copper’s services my father protects him from the yapping Chihuahuas and toy poodles that plague Copper during their walks, biting at his ankles and latching onto his
tail. During Christmas, when a pair of horribly tacky reindeer horns is fastened onto Copper’s head for a holiday
picture, my dad is the first to show empathy, removing the humiliating headdress the moment the camera stops flashing.
As the years press on there will come a time when my
dad can no longer roll around the room with our dog, can no
longer wrestle with his friend, and one day Copper’s joints will prevent him from doing the same. But they’ll find a
way to continue the bond that keeps my father young. Copper has become so skilled at the art of momentarily reversing
a person’s age that even his joyful squeals whenever my father re-enters a room are having a comparable effect.
Now whenever I watch them play, the scene always
seems to ease my fears about aging. Exercise, a healthy diet, and
fabulous friends may be the obvious factors when it comes to feeling young, but after watching the miraculous effect
Copper has had on my father, I’m adding a dog to my list. Maybe two for good measure…
in the subject line of the message.)