By Chloe Crismon
Every summer of my childhood included trips to grandma’s house. The drive was crickety and bouncy for a little one, trying the big seat for the first time, and traveling for a half hour felt like eternity.
Grandma’s house was a beautiful home of red brick and cherry wood, with a slanted roof you could see while sitting around the fireplace. Each of the bedrooms were filled with toys! Blocks, cars, trains and action figures could be found downstairs, while dresses, tea sets, and dolls were upstairs. And the cookie jar in the kitchen was never empty.
Yes, Grandma’s home was beautiful, but the real adventure was outside.
In the backyard, Grandpa had his own forest of citrus trees growing along each side of the fence.
Every year, we would help pick all the lemons, oranges, and grapefruit while eating as much as we wanted. And if it was too hot to play in the trees, we would play in the pool where the water was bluer than the sky.
After the long car ride, every grandchild was ready for the outside adventure, but before we could get outside, a cousin of mine came running back into the house.
“Mom!” he shouted. “There’s a lion in the backyard!”
She comfortingly took his hand and said, “There’s not a lion, sweety.”
“But I really saw it!” he insisted.
“A lion, you say?” Grandpa chuckled. “Let’s take a look.”
He led us outside where a surprise had been let loose in the backyard. “Oh now, that’s just Leo.”
“Leo?” each of us asked as we all pushed around him to see.
“Yes, Leo. Now he’s going to be staying here for a while and I want you all to be nice to him.”
We each quietly agreed, all while safely hiding behind Grandpa. I hadn’t yet seen Leo the Lion, but I was still scared. Peeking out from behind Grandpa, I saw the biggest dog I had ever seen. With a fur coat brighter than the sunshine, legs longer than your arm, and a smooshed black face, Leo stood powerfully over us little children.
“Go on now,” Grandpa said. “He won’t bite.”
Hesitantly, we made our way towards the new giant. He stood there, calmly, quietly, watching each of us approach. As we stopped around him, Leo dropped his head and sniffed my brother’s shirt. Then a tongue longer than my hair came out of his mouth and licked my brother’s face.
Each of us froze for a second, shocked to the core. Then my brother squealed and laughed as he stepped away, wiping his face. “Eww!”
We all joined in the laughter and stepped closer to Leo. While petting his sides, we learned he was softer than fleece and calmer than Grandpa. He was also even slower than Grandpa. Leo was an old dog that had lived a full life before coming to Grandma’s. His previous owner couldn’t care for him anymore, so Grandpa decided to.
Leo lived in Grandpa’s orchard, amongst the citrus trees. On days that were hot, he would lie around on the back porch or in the shade of the trees. Sometimes he would even stand in the pool! I could tell his favorite days of summer were the same as mine, either irrigation day when water would cover all the grass and each tree became an island to swim to, or when Grandma would open the pool gate.
One hot day, Leo was lying under my favorite orange tree. We decided that since Leo was so big, he would be so fun to ride. Each of us gave it a try, but he wouldn’t get up off the ground. Finally, after we stopped trying, he stood up and walked away. Our dads were watching and laughing from the back porch. My Dad decided it wasn’t a bad idea, so he took his sister’s baby boy and placed him on Leo’s back as he walked beside them.
“Why does Tommy get to ride?!”
Each of my uncles kept on laughing, but some of my aunts didn’t think it was funny.
Just then, Grandpa approached the tree. “Now kids, Leo is a very old dog. He isn’t strong like he used to be. He can carry Tommy because Tommy is so little, but you are all too big. You all need to be a little kinder to him.”
We said in unison, “Yes Grandpa.” then went on with our day, deciding to be extra nice to Leo.
Every time we played with Leo, he was calm, quiet, and gentle. He was often so peaceful that we would fall asleep around him in the afternoon; he our giant, protecting lion, we his noisy, crazy little lambs. Leo never stopped being a good dog.
After three summers of fun and love from Leo the Lion, he disappeared as suddenly as he came.
Grandpa said he had gone to the same place my family’s last dog had, a better place where he wouldn’t be so tired.
“You can still be near him if you try,” Grandpa promised. “He’s still here with us in the backyard. Remember how much he loved the backyard?”
“He sure did!” My Dad said as he placed a shovel by the back door.
The Compass, August 2022
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