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Memories of youth and Cleo the dog

One day when I was baking cookies in my sandbox, my mother brought over a little boy to my box. "This is Daniel," she said, and asked me to play with him baking cookies.

The boy did not say anything even after I had asked him if he knew how. My mother had gone back in the house, but about five minutes later I ran to her crying, "I cannot play with him."

"Why not?" my mother asked.

"He doesn't know how to talk," I explained.

"Oh," my mother said, and she placed me on her lap.

"Daniel is from England, and people there speak another language. He has been here only a short time and has to learn to speak Dutch. Maybe you can help him. Try it again," she said.

Daniel eventually learned to speak our tongue and became rather good at it. He and his family lived in the last house on the dirt road nearby. Their place had a large yard front and back, and in that yard Daniel's dad had a real horse.

At times Daniel would come all dressed up in a fancy riding costume on his horse and ride past our place. At the end of the dirt road were open fields and narrow walking trails, all ideal for taking the horse. Daniel remained a very quiet boy but often would participate in our games.

One day my dad was talking to Mr. Flanders, Daniel's dad. They stood at the fence of the Flanders' yard.

"I don't trust this Hitler," noted Mr. Flanders. "We are thinking about going back to England."

My dad did not see it that way. He had survived the first World War without an invasion, and Hitler up to that point had been very courteous toward the Netherlands.

"Don't be afraid," he would boldly proclaim over the radio. "The Dutch are our friends."

Mr. Flanders did not believe that boisterous rhetoric, and in 1939 he sold the horse and the family returned to England. I lost my friend, but we inherited Cleo, their dog. He was of mid-size with a black and brown coat and gold-yellow eyes. He loved all the members of the Flanders family during the years they lived in our neighborhood. After the family went back to England, Cleo came to live with us but would every day crawl back to his former home, now empty, and he would lie there sadly by the front door.

Day after day the same routine. We would take him to our place, play with him, but he was not happy. He did not eat much anymore and walked slowly with his nose and tail always down. He was very homesick for his former owners.

After some time, my mother took him to a veterinarian. He listened to the story of Cleo and declared that there was nothing wrong with the dog, only that he missed his former family. Dogs have a very sensitive nose and he could no longer smell them, he said.

My mother asked whether there was something that could be done about it.

"Yes," answered the vet. "It may sound strange, but if you add just a few drops of your urine to his food, then your scent is stronger than that of his former family and that should solve the problem."

It was a strange remedy, and my mother was skeptical about it but followed up on that advice, and sure enough, after a few days, Cleo never returned to his former home. Cleo remained loyal for many years. My dad built a dog house and put some straw in it, but soon spiders invaded the new home, and Cleo never slept in it. We kids would play in it, but he would not join us there.

One day my youngest sister disappeared. She had learned to walk, rocking back and forth on her unsteady little legs. My mother noticed that one of the gates had been left open and ran down the road. She spotted something moving away from our home and near the open fields. She also noticed a waving black tail, Cleo's tail.

Cleo was our hero that day for watching over our sister. When he became old he slept a lot, ate little and walked with difficulty. One winter morning we found him next to one of the floor heaters, never to wake again. My dad buried him in our backyard next to his never-used doghouse.

— Tony Antonides lives in Central Point.