Willie Bear had business to take care of. Places to go. Things to do. He was a busy man, was Willie Bear Hollings (albeit at 14 months, a very young one). He had a whole wide world to explore, and time was a-wasting. He’d been in the park before, but never when it was full of so many strange legs and shoes — not surprising since today was the 1960 edition of the annual Independence Day barbecue and picnic, and most of the town was in attendance. Willie Bear had spotted this great big fuzzy thing over there by mama that was new and strange, and very interesting. Sometimes it was tall and horizontal, with legs on both ends, and sometimes, like now, it was flat. He was pretty sure it had a head, and it moved by itself, and Willie Bear was consumed with the need to find out what it was.
The only way he knew how to get to it was to crawl, but Willie Bear was becoming more and more dissatisfied with that method of locomotion, more and more put out with the fact that he couldn’t get any speed out of it. When he held his head up to see where he was going, it was hard to get his shoulders into it and his chubby arms tired out too quick. But if he held it horizontal so he could get his back and shoulders into the action, he couldn’t see where he was going. He’d finally managed to work out a system of bobbing his head up and down to keep his bearings and check for obstacles and he’d almost got it perfected. But he knew there was another way, the way mama and dada did it, and he was working on it with his usual single minded determination. So far he had only mastered the standing up part, although he still hadn’t worked out how to get up onto his feet without pulling up on the furniture. Once he was standing up, he could move around, but only if he was holding on to something. The minute he let go of it, though, he’d lose his balance and either flop down on his butt or fall over onto his hands and knees again. Yesterday, that balance issue had just about frustrated the tarnation out of Willie Bear.
He was a busy man, and time was a-wasting, and Willie Bear did not abide frustration well. And just when he’d worked out a way to get to all the things he wanted to see and do, it seemed like the whole world was out to thwart him. Like today. When mamma and dada had brought him to the park, they’d spread a quilt and plopped him down on it right in the middle of the most amazing collection of things that needed investigating that he was hardly able to contain himself for the excitement. And then what did they do but block every attempt he’d made so far to get to them. And now there was that great fuzzy thing over there where momma was standing next to a cluster of such fascinating legs and shoes.
Willie Bear saw his chance and made his break. He put every ounce of muscle into working his roly poly legs and threw his back and shoulders into it, and really poured on the speed. At last! There it was in all its wonderfully intriguing fuzziness. Willie Bear sat back on his behind thoughtfully. It was way bigger than he was (so was practically everybody). But, oh, it was fuzzy, all right, as fuzzy as his Wooly Bear, and warm, like his Wooly Bear was after he’d been holding it against him all night. When it slowly turned its head and looked at him, Willie Bear saw to his delight that it had real eyes with somebody looking out of them, not just hard shiny things stuck on in the eye place like his Wooly Bear had. Now it was being kind of triangular and pointed, with its head just above Willy Bear’s, and something long and floppy and pink hanging out of its face. And he had to know about it, find out as much as he could about it as quickly as he could before somebody came and got him and put him back on that stupid quilt. He gave it an experimental pat. It was soft on top and firm underneath. He put his face up against the fuzziness and gave it a hug, and found it most satisfactory for hugging.
“Willie Bear!” Oh, drat! Mama had spotted him. He clung tightly to the dog’s fuzzy warmth and pulled himself to his feet, the better to hold on with both arms.
“It’s alright ma’m. Diarmuid won’t hurt him. He’s real good with kids,“ said that man whose dog it was — Sam Goode, wasn’t it? (Mrs. Hollings thought she’d heard he was from Montana and was helping the McLarens with the work they were doing on their house. He seemed to be a nice man but he had that big mustache all over his upper lip. And ‘Diarmuid’ was such an odd name for a dog, especially one from Montana, but then it was an odd looking dog, like a very large greyhound with wispy, salt and pepper colored fur. Such a big dog, too.) Just as Mrs. Hollings was about to say something, Sam added, in a slightly louder voice, “Everybody just keep quiet and stay put, and we might get to watch a miracle happen.”
Then, in a very soft, hardly audible voice, he said “Walk up, now,” which seemed to be a command to the dog, who perked its ears and looked over at its master. As the hefty toddler patted at him, pudgy fist thumping resonantly against the barrel of the dog’s chest, Diarmuid carefully and slowly lifted his hindquarters off the ground until he was standing. The dog’s attention was now focused on the child who had a fistful of the fur over his shoulders. He took a careful step forward, and the child followed suit, clinging to the dog for balance.
Another softly spoken command, “Walk up.”
The dog began to walk carefully and slowly forward toward Willie Bear’s mama with Willie Bear trundling single-mindedly alongside, clutching the dog’s fur for balance.
Then Sam said, “hoo-ahh” quietly and Diarmuid eased to a stop. With a determined frown of concentration, Willie Bear let go of the dog and continued his teetering advance the remaining distance to his mother. As she knelt down to pick him up, he looked up at her with an expression of triumph, his face flushed with exhilaration at his first solo venture on two feet. He was finally starting to get a handle on this balance thing!
“I believe that’s a young man who’s going places, “ Sam allowed in his slow Montana drawl, then added with a chuckle, “And the first places he’s gonna go are the places you don’t want him to.” A ripple of laughter acknowledged the truth of that statement.