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I was 5 years old when I experienced one of the three saddest days of my life. We lived in El Cajon, Calif., and I was walking to school. My kindergarten was less than a half-mile away, but it seemed like a mile to my little legs. It was a few minutes after 8 a.m., when I heard the patter of doggy feet behind me. I turned to see Dreamer dutifully following me.

Dreamer was my mother's Cocker Spaniel, and the beautiful critter loved being with me.

"Dreamer, come here. You are not supposed to go to school with me. You need to be in the house." She probably didn't understand everything I said, but she enjoyed being picked up and came to me. The pooch weighed almost as much as I did, and I was huffing and puffing when I retraced the two blocks to home. At least, it SEEMED like she weighed that much.

I deposited her into the house, then quickly shut the door before she could scoot back out.

I was at the same place, in front of a little neighborhood store two blocks down Avocado Street, when I heard the belabored breathing of a slightly over-weight dog.

The neighborhood stores in 1951 were not the size of the neighborhood Walmart stores today. They were the size of houses. In fact, this one might have been a converted house.

Somehow, Dreamer had gotten out of the house. But HOW? I had closed the door, and all the windows were closed and latched.

I called her again. "Dreamer! Come here!" But by the sound of my little voice, she knew she was in trouble, and dashed into the parking lot of the store across the street ... right behind the wheel of a truck that was backing up.

"DREAMER!"

My whole world was smashed, just like Dreamer was smashed.

I was crying -- perhaps screaming -- running all the way home. From inside the house, dad heard me and met me at the door.

"Eugene, settle down, and tell me ...." As he was talking, I managed to blubber out that Dreamer was dead. My mental state was shattered.

Mom came to the door, and dad told her what he could understand from me. Mom began to cry. Dreamer was her dog. Dad told mom, "Verna, when I came into the kitchen, I let Dreamer outside. I didn't know Eugene had just put her back inside."

Dad got a wooden box and walked to the little store with me. The owner of the truck was still there and Dreamer's body hadn't been moved. The man offered to pay dad for Dreamer, but based on what I told him, dad refused the money.

Dad took Dreamer home and buried her in the back yard. I went on to school, and that was the first time I didn't like being in class. When I returned home, I heard mom singing a song. A haunting melody that I thought mom had made up that day. Mom was singing in her beautiful alto voice, "Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me, Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee...."

I waited by the piano until she finished. "Mommy, I didn't know you could make up songs like that." Mingling crying with laughter, mom said, "Eugene, I didn't make it up. I'm singing it now about Dreamer, but it's a song written a long time ago by a man named Stephen Foster. But I'm singing it for Dreamer."

That event was over 68 years ago. I remember it now because Jan. 13 is Stephen Foster Day. What intrigued me is that Stephen Foster wrote the song Beautiful Dreamer in 1864, a few days prior to his own death. Foster's music, such as Oh Susanna, is still popular today.

Several years ago as Carol and I were on our year-long trek around the U.S.A., we were crossing a bridge south of Perry, Fla. Suddenly, Carol exclaimed, "When you cross the bridge, pull into that rest area!"

As I crossed the Suwannee River, Carol was singing, "Way down upon the Swanee River, Far, far away. That's where my heart is yearning ever, Home where the old folks stay." (The original name of the song is Old Folks At Home.) She finished what she remembered of the song, and I parked near the sign that said, "Fanning Springs Bridge. Way Down Upon The Suwannee River. Stephen Foster."

That made Carol's day. And I remembered Dreamer.

-- S. Eugene Linzey is the author of 'Charter of the Christian Faith.' Send comments and questions to [email protected] Visit his website at www.genelinzey.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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