On a “snow day” in the winter of ’69, me and Skipper went to “get the mail.” Getting the mail was an almost herculean event, even without the snow, because our mailbox wasn’t at the end of our driveway; it was “down the road” about a half mile along with the rest of the mailboxes for everyone in the development. So, it was a mile there and back even in summer. If the weather was nice, I’d either ride my bike or skateboard and Skipper, a stunning “black & tan” Gordon Setter, would shadow me (or me him…)… but not that day—it was winter; and the only way to make the journey was on foot (and paw).

The weather was bad enough for them to close school that morning but I seem to recall that by the time we headed out it had stopped snowing and the sun had turned the neighborhood into a wonderland—where every tree was bejeweled in what looked like shimmering diamonds and gems. But, the mail had to be gotten, and I was the one who’s responsibility it was to get it.

I was eight. Skipper was just about a year old and still “gangly”… and the ice and snow made him even more so, if it were possible. So we made our way to the “bank” of a couple dozen mailboxes and grabbed the mail. For reasons that defy explanation (besides the fact that I was disobeying a DIRECT ORDER from my Father), rather than simply turnaround and go back home the way we came, I decided to return home via “the pond”. Now the pond was a long natural body of water behind our house that ran parallel with the road that led to the mail boxes… There was a dirt path along side the pond that you could walk on but well, being “8 and all-wise”, and it being winter and all, I surmised that the lake was frozen—or so I thought. Mail in one hand, leash in another, we came to the edge of the pond… There was about as much snow ON the pond as on the ground, so as far as I was concerned, it was frozen solid, and we ventured out onto the ice.

So far so good. Beside the occasional “echo” that is produced and magnified across the entire mass—a sound you have to hear to truly appreciate, but it sort of sounds like a single heartbeat; we trekked across the “field” of untouched snow in complete silence. There’s a certain realization that occurs when you’re under the water, under the ice…and I was having that realization. I don’t remember exactly how long it was that we were walking before the ice simply gave way but a boy and his dog were in the pond. And it was cold… very cold… very, very cold; and there was not another soul in sight.

My dad was at work, my mom and three-year old brother were home, and me and Skipper were doing what we did every day… getting the mail—except today’s delivery was looking like it wasn’t going to get made. I do remember that I didn’t panic… I think the shock of the icy water made it impossible to think clearly because if I could think clearly, I would have been MUCH MORE scared… but Skipper WAS freaking out… he knew exactly how much trouble we were in.

The two of us in were in what might as well have been The Arctic Ocean… I’ll never forget the sound of Skipper yelping… it was otherworldly, but maybe that was because my head was going in and
out the water… He was thrashing around wildly, trying to get his paws on the ice… and at the same time, I’m trying to “scoot” myself up, onto my elbows—but no matter what I did, the ice kept breaking
every time I tried to pull myself up… we were on thin ice, literally, and it kept shattering as soon as any weight was put on it. And beside the ice, there was all the snow on top of it.

There’s no way to describe the feeling you feel when, in spite of your best efforts, you’re not making any progress…But then something strange happened… and every time I think about, I don’t know exactly what to think about it… but Skipper sort of climbed “up” my back onto my shoulders, and went right over my head and made his way onto the ice. He actually used me as “plank” and “jumped”. And I guess he knew what he was doing because whatever he did, worked, and he landed on solid ice. Then, the very next thing I remember is the pain. He bit me… and I mean “bit” me HARD—my shoulder bears the mark to this day… and RIPPED me out of the water… it was almost “angelic” if I could describe it that way… and in an instant, I was laying on the snow on the ice… I remember that Skipper wouldn’t stop licking my face… it was as if he were trying to “dry me off”… it was kind of gross… but I didn’t mind.

I knew I had almost died… and I was glad to be alive… but there wasn’t any time for celebrating… we were soaked to the bone and ice cold and still pretty far from home. There was no choice but to continue marching forward… and thankfully, the ice was strong enough to support us.

Later, I was to learn that the spot we broke through was closest to the “inlet”, so the constant flow “in” didn’t allow the water to freeze as fast there as elsewhere… Who knew? But, don’t think the “stay away from the pond” speech wasn’t playing loud and clear in my head every step of the way home… The thin ice was behind us and we ran the rest of the way to where our property began. It was easy to spot, even from the “waterside”, because it’d be impossible to miss the orange boundary line tape on the trees that my dad had diligently measured and marked—I’m pretty sure the Apollo astronauts could’ve seen all that tape from space. As soon as we were on “dry land”, we raced up the hill, scaled the ancient rock wall behind my house, and fled though the woods as if we were being chased by ghosts. We were freezing and Skipper looked like a giant version of a man’s iced beard— like on one of those explorers or climbers on an expedition… but it didn’t matter… we were alive and well and we were together. Not only that, but I had somehow managed to hold on to the mail… at least some of it. It turns out, that I had put the “letters” in my zipper pocket inside my ski jacket. But whatever I was holding in my hand at the time was gone.

The expression on my mom’s face was definitely one for the books. Suffice it to say she broke down when she saw us and no explanation was necessary. And the hot bath Skipper and I took together that afternoon was something I always wish I had a picture of—but I’m sure my mother would have done anything to “cover up” the incident and photographs certainly wouldn’t have helped in that endeavour. But there was no hiding anything from my father. The conversation that night around the dinner table started with the question “Why the hell’s the mail all wet?” and ended with me being grounded for 6 months. And I served EVERY day of that sentence; but I wasn’t alone—not for one minute…

Skipper saved my life that day and I knew it. What was weird though, and I can’t be absolutely certain about this, but it had always seemed to me that Skipper thought that I had saved his life that day… at least that’s what I think he wanted me to believe. Sometimes, I honestly wonder if Skipper was really an angel in dog’s “clothing”. Regardless, all dogs go to Heaven and Skipper will be the one wearing a golden crown.

– David from Hamlin, PA