Team building mixer activities are something I always enjoy. Yes, I’m probably one of the few who look forward to this, but it’s because I have a really good story about my childhood and no one can ever guess it’s mine.
The question is always, “Share one or two facts about yourself that would surprise someone,” and my eyes light up. Glee. I can describe it as glee. Then the moderator of the event asks each group to share the facts, and guess who connects to each story.
No one ever guesses mine. It ends up being process of elimination. We get down to two people, and then I hear, “Okay. Which one of you had their life saved by a dog?” The other person can’t keep a poker face, and looks confused. Then all eyes are on me.
Ta dah! Yes. It’s me. My dog saved my life! I have my own Lassie moment – two actually. No, I didn’t fall down a well, and my name isn’t Timmy. Nor was my dog named Lassie. However, my Collie dog Betsy did save my life when I was 2 years old.
It was the winter of ‘79, those people living in the Midwest more than 40 years old all remember this winter, or have heard tales of it. The blizzards were intense, and the drifts were “as tall as our houses,” only this wasn’t an exaggeration. Our little country house was nestled in these snow drifts, and my parents were using our wood burning stoves to keep us all warm. They had to work extra hard because I was a two year old who felt like clothing was optional ... in the dead of winter, in an old drafty country house.
My poor mother would tuck me in at night, having dressed me in the warmest of jammies, and then wake up to find me clad solely in my cloth diaper (because I think potty training me was a nightmare and she still refuses to talk about it to this day).
I had also become quite the escape artist, which my parents thought was fantastic. They’d get me tucked in, and then not 10 minutes later, I would show up in their room smiling: “I happy Mama. I happy,” while I rubbed my head that I had hit while hurdling myself out of my crib.
Typically, after I went to bed, my parents learned to wait to go to bed for a good hour, just to make sure I wasn’t playing a Houdini trick on them. This particular night they had done their waiting, and felt as if it was safe to go to bed. In their defense, they were first time parents.
Mom and Dad made sure I was snug and asleep, and then went to bed themselves while they listened to the latest blizzard hit. A couple hours later, I woke up and tossed myself out of that crib. Instead of running into my parents’ room to get busted, I decided that maybe I would try my luck playing outside.
My parents are still unsure of how I did it, but I managed to unlock our inside and outside porch doors, and then wandered out into the snow. I wish had memories of these moments because I can only rely on parental terror to tell this story.
I’m sure my 2-year-old self was impressed with the winter wonderland and the blowing winds. I think a snowstorm at night is so pretty now at the age of 41, so maybe I was just as mesmerized at the age of two.
My parents don’t think about that aspect, they only remember panic. Mom and Dad aren’t certain how long I was outside, but it couldn’t have been too long. What they do know is that our dog Betsy found me. Betsy normally slept in a dog house that was at the back of our farm, but in the winter, sometimes she would tuck herself up on the porch. Perhaps that is where she was when I wandered outside?
Dad says he remembers hearing Betsy barking, and Betsy never barked. It woke him up out of a dead sleep, and he could hear her howls over the wind. So, he grabbed his shotgun, thinking that there was something dangerous on the farm, and headed toward the front door.
He flipped on the front porch light and opened the door to look out into the snow, it was blowing so hard that he couldn’t see anything, but he could hear Betsy barking. As he looked down the side of the house, trying to follow her bark, he noticed that she was huddled against the wall, and she refused to come to him when he called: “Betsy, come here girl.”
Dad quickly put his boots on, thinking that Betsy had something cornered around the side of the house, and he walked out into the storm. When he approached her and asked, “What’s wrong, girl?” He couldn’t believe what he saw. Me.
Betsy had wrapped her entire body around me, and held me against the side of the house. I was only wearing a diaper, and she was trying so hard to keep my little self warm. Dad quickly put his gun down and picked me up, rushing inside.
Mom and Dad were forever thankful for Betsy. She lived to be 14 years old, and the day she died was a tragic one for our family. I owe my life to her. The only injuries I sustained was a small bit of frostbite on my legs, the only part of my body that Betsy’s body couldn’t cover. I’d say that’s a pretty small price to pay in comparison to what could have happened to me.
Now as an adult, I love to sleep in all the clothes and really don’t like getting out of bed – my parents consider it a late-in-life win. And someday, I hope to have another Collie dog, just in case I take up sleepwalking in my old age.