Tuesday, October 26, 2010
I am so blessed to have a friend like Angela Treiber who reads practically a book a day and then every couple of weeks leaves a shopping bag full of them with her doorman for me. I start most and if they don’t click I donate them right away to my beloved Webster branch of the library. I might go through a half dozen before I find a gem, but then I always have that wonderful feeling of reading a book I love and can’t wait to get back to.
When I looked at the cover of Huck in the latest batch I almost put in on the pile for the library without even starting it. I saw that absolutely adorable dog and read the subtitle, “The Remarkable True Story of How One Lost Puppy Taught a Family -- and a Whole Town -- About Hope and Happy Endings” and thought, “too hokey.” Let me say I have an extremely high tolerance for hokeyness, but I thought this one would be over the top. Luckily I started it -- and was hooked from page one. The library won’t be getting this one. It’s a keeper.
Author Janet Elder, a senior editor at The New York Times, is too skilled a writer to let Huck become hokey. And she’s such a gifted storyteller that I hated to put the book down, even though I knew from the subtitle what the outcome would be.
Huck, a reddish-brown toy poodle, came into the lives of Elder, her husband, Richard Pinsky, and their son, Michael, following an arduous year the family had spent dealing with Elder’s breast cancer. She had had a sick parent and knew how hard it is on a child to watch a parent suffer through grave illness. Michael had been asking for a dog since he was a tiny child but because they lived in an apartment on the Upper East Side, Janet and Rich had always maintained that a dog would be too much trouble.
Once she was diagnosed with cancer, though, Elder realized that promising Michael a puppy at the end of her treatments would offer just the beacon of hope he needed at such a scary time. She had no way of knowing just what a talisman of hope Huck would become for all of them.
Several months after Huck’s arrival, the family decided to celebrate the end of Elder’s yearlong cancer battle by taking a trip to Florida to see the Yankees at spring training. Huck would stay with Elder’s sister, Barbara, and her family in Ramsey, NJ. They had barely begun their vacation, however, when they received a call from Barbara that Huck had escaped from the yard and was missing. Without hesitation, Rich, Janet and Michael headed home on the first flight they could book. Huck meant too much to all of them by then. He represented the joy and new life that can follow suffering and fear.
Rather than commute back and forth from Manhattan, they settled into a hotel in New Jersey and set out to do what would have sounded like the impossible to most people -- to find a tiny puppy lost in an unfamiliar town, surrounded by dense woods filled with wild animals and birds of prey and streets with fast moving cars.
Working from before sunrise until after dark, even in the rain, they papered Ramsey and nearby Mahwah, Allendale and Wyckoff with posters featuring Huck and offering a $1,000 reward. They knocked on doors, stopped people on the street and drove and walked around for hours calling out Huck’s name. Even after nights of subfreezing temperatures when Janet and Rich secretly wondered if Huck could survive, they kept looking.
And they weren’t alone. They were helped by scores of townspeople who set aside their plans to look for the strangers’ dog, to distribute their posters, to make copies, to offer prayers. Then, early on Sunday morning, several days after Huck had disappeared, thanks to one of these caring townspeople, their miracle came true and Michael once again held Huck in his arms.
“We ate our bagels and watched Huck play on the floor, as though the harrowing adventure of the last few days had not even happened,” Elder writes. “But it did happen. And it had a happy ending. We learned a lot about the heart of a small town and the extraordinary level of concern one stranger can show another. We learned a lot about ourselves, too, about tenacity and grit and our devotion to one another.”
I’m not going to put this book on a shelf with my others. I’m going to prop it up in a prominent place where I will see it many times a day. Not just because I love looking at Huck’s dear face, but because I want the reminder to believe in the possible and to fight for it without giving up hope. And the reminder to ask for help because it can be surrounding me all along without my even knowing it.