It seems like just yesterday that Ellie was crying because of her frightened mother's grip. And now it's already time for her anxious parents to let her go.
Daughter No. 2 is graduating from high school this weekend, along with a few hundred classmates at the James Brown Civic Arena and Air-Horn Test Facility.
How the time has flown.
It really does seem that barely a calendar page has turned since the split-second scream. Ellie was about 2 at the time, toddling around the yard of our first home in Martinez while her parents puttered with the landscaping.
Little Ellie didn't mean any harm when she plopped onto the reclining Sandy's back. And our dear, sweet collie wasn't being vicious when she spun with a surprised yelp and snapped, catching Ellie's tiny face in her jaws.
But in that terrible moment, Sandy's top canines grazed both of Ellie's eyebrows and cheeks. Her sharp bottom teeth opened a gash under Ellie's chin.
Today, the marks on her face are barely visible. The scar under her jaw shows only when she looks up.
But on that sunny suburban afternoon, the wounds seemed battleground horrific. Her mother bundled her into the backseat of a car driven by her own mom, while Ellie's dad arranged care for her older sister before also speeding to the emergency room behind them.
En route, Ellie soon quieted down. But after a few minutes she started crying again. My wife started asking urgently: "Does it hurt? Is it getting worse?"
Little Ellie finally was able to gasp out, "No, Mommy - you're squeezing me too tight!"
Oh, we laugh about it now, almost as often as we tease her about wood ice cream. (*It's a long but funny story; scroll to the end of this column and I'll tell you about it.) And I'm sure the tale of The Day of the Dog Bite will continue to come up at future occasions.
But right now, all I can think about is that little girl is graduating from high school, and soon will be headed off to a college five hours away - or about as long as the average emergency room visit.
Her mom held on to her tight enough to squeeze the air out of her those many years ago, but somehow now we have to figure out how we possibly can turn her loose.
I know there are a lot of other moms and dads facing that same bewildering junction in life. Like them, I also was not asked to deliver a commencement address Saturday - even though six schools held graduation exercises and surely could have benefited from some of our pithier anecdotes.
Well, mine, anyway. The rest of you are probably terrible speakers, which is why you weren't asked.
In any event, this time of year I lament this lack of such an invitation on behalf of my old friend and former columnist, the late Aubrey Shaw. He went to his untimely grave never having been invited to deliver a commencement address.
He should have been invited to speak. He was a lot funnier that me, too.
But now my own daughter is crossing the stage, the second of my three girls to do so. It's enlightening to realize that, like me, the majority of the people at commencement exercises aren't there to speak anyway. They're in the audience to listen and watch. Or to scream and yell and press the buttons on air horns as if their team is about to score a touchdown.
Like me, most of the people are in the audience not so much to watch all the students cross that stage, but to watch one specific student walk across the stage and take that diploma, along with the keys to his or her future.
And, like me, I bet a lot of those parents are wondering how it can be that just yesterday they were hanging onto a dear life, and suddenly today they're having to figure out how to loosen their grip.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
* Once upon a time I had seen a cartoon that showed an ice-cream shop. A couple of people were standing in front of the counter, and on the wall was a sign that said, "Ice Cream Flavors: Vanilla, Hair, Wood." The clerk was saying, "We're all out of vanilla."
Years later, we were in the family minivan going through the Dairy Queen drive-through. I said, "Well, the flavors are vanilla, hair and wood, and they're all out of vanilla." After a pause, a small voice from the back - Ellie, then about 4 years old - said, "Well, I guess I'll try the wood."
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