Editorial: Old ‘Copper’ provided a lesson in gratitude

File Photo By Walt Mares

Three-legged friend is one of the many reasons for thanks

Column By Walt Mares

Walt Mares: Walt Mares has been in journalism since 1976 and has covered Greenlee County since 1983.

It was not Thanksgiving Day or any holiday but it is a special day in my memory. It causes me to be grateful.

It was early summer in the San Luis Valley. The view was of the distant Sangre de Cristo mountain range that includes many 14,000-footers. It was a clear day and the sky was a deep blue.

I remember how I felt deep gratitude for Copper. Not copper, as in what is being mined locally, but the three-legged dog named “Copper.”

Copper, the dog, exemplified acceptance, perhaps because of his own imperfections, in every whisker, hair, bone, and muscle in his somewhat misshapen body. He was not a whiner as some dogs – and many people – sometimes are. He greeted everyone who drove up to the Miller’s home just as any normal four-legged pooch would. He barked. It was worse than his bite, however, and it did not take me long to become his pal. I figured that was his nature, but learned from his humans that there were folks he just never took a shine to. You probably know the type.

The last time that I visited the Miller farm, Copper and I came to understand and, I like to think, appreciate each other. If he liked a person, he showed it without becoming a pest. If he did not like someone, that person knew it by the dog’s absence.

Along with becoming quick pals, Copper and I developed an early-morning ritual. I sat out in the front yard on a tree stump while I drank my coffee and Copper sat at my feet or by my side.

It was an incredible view to the east, 50 miles away. It was one that I saw thousands of mornings as a child while growing up in the high-altitude San Luis Valley of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. I did not realize how much I missed its beauty and magnificence. The sun was just peeking over the majestic Sangre de Cristos. The smell of fresh-cut alfalfa was in the air. The birds began to chirp and sing as they greeted the day. They made the only sound except for an occasional sigh from Copper or me.

It was serenity and tranquility all rolled into one. My mind, for once, was uncluttered. No thoughts of work or the long trip back to Arizona came to mind. It was one of those moments when a person just lets it be.

Having Copper as company was an important part of the moment. Looking at him, the thought came to mind about unconditional friendship. Unlike so many humans, Copper did not seem to have any expectations of me. Sure, he probably appreciated the occasional pat on the head or the gentle scratching of his ears, but aside from that, he just sat and occasionally sighed. He, too, mostly looked off into the distance at the hayfields and distant mountains.

It was not until the return trip home that I again thought of Copper’s acceptance of me. It caused me to think of the people I count as true friends, the people who have seen me at my best and lowest points in life and still accept me for who and what I am.

A true friend helps keep one balanced. Blessed is the person whose friends are not judgmental or whose judgment is tempered by reflection on their own shortcomings.

Through the years, my true friends have been forthright in their criticism of me. Many times they have also been the ones to point to an achievement or attribute of mine, that for whatever reason, perhaps not feeling worthy of praise, I had resisted acknowledging or accepting. For them, I am very grateful.

No marriage is perfect, but for some couples, there are fundamental things that can be applied toward making it work. Respect, friendship, and not taking each other for granted are among those.

My wife is my best friend and I am extremely grateful for that. After 27 years together, we still say please, thank you, and excuse me to each other. We share housework. We do not become upset because one of us left the cap off the tube of toothpaste or dropped the carton of eggs on the floor.

If anybody gets rattled, it is almost always I who tries to make something out of the proverbial molehill. 

Ours is not a perfect marriage, but we work at it. We ask how each other’s day went. We can sit in silence as we each sit and read a book or newspaper in our home or in the back yard.

It is not that we have nothing to say to each other. Rather, it is our comfort with each other. It is a matter of recognizing that there is no need to speak for the sake of speaking.

That is the way it has been with my life-long friends, of which I have very few that I count as true friends. For them, I am ever so grateful. Months or years may have passed since the time we last spoke, but somehow we do not skip a beat and seem to pick up where left off.

There are times we ask each other if we remember something that occurred “the other day.” At times it is actually something that happened five or 10 years ago or even longer.

As with my wife, family, and friends, I will always be grateful for that three-legged pooch that befriended me without reservation.  There are mornings now that I remember Copper in my prayers and remain thankful for him.