Preston came into my life the summer of 1998, the summer I turned fourteen. I was kind of caught between childhood and adulthood at that point. I couldn’t decided what I wanted more, to stay young or join the ranks of my friends who seemed to embrace young adulthood carelessly. So I had a foot in both doors. I was about to get a job at Culver’s, I began thinking about college and boys. I worked rigidly, diligently, at my academics and music. I was perpetually unhappy. But I believed, as long I was doing what teenagers did, I would be okay.
What made me really happy was forgetting all the demands and “shoulds”. Reading a good book, taking a bath, coloring, playing with my baby cousins or little neighbors, doing a jigsaw puzzle. Cuddling next to my mom in her bed and talking. Holding my dad’s hand. Or climbing the tree in my backyard just to see what I could see. Those were the happy times. When I could just be a little kid. But, of course, I rarely felt happy for long doing those things because I was fourteen and teenagers just didn’t do those things.
We were sitting in the minivan waiting for Mom and Dad. Greg, Tim and me. Nate decided he wasn’t coming to Illinois with us for our mini “family reunion.” He was trying to save money for college, so he decided to stay back and work. Mom and Dad left the house, chatting playfully. My mom, especially, had eyes full of wonder and a carefree expression on her face as she climbed in next to Dad.
Seeing Mom like that right before a road trip was not typical. But I didn’t analyze it too much, just enjoyed her strange but pleasant mood. I was looking forward to seeing my extended family, especially playing with my little cousins. Summers were great. I was away from the pressures of school friends and living up to all the “shoulds” I placed on myself.
When we pulled into my grandparents’ long windy black driveway after the three-hour drive, I noticed my elegant grandmother wandering around the yard with a little black dot hopping up and down wildly behind her. Everywhere she went the little dot followed. As we got closer to the scene, the dot turned into a small puppy. My heart rate quickened. It all made sense. Mom wanted to surprise us because her parents had gotten a puppy and she knew how much I loved dogs! Her good mood made sense now! I don’t remember what my brothers said, but I blurted out, “You didn’t tell us Grammy and Papa got a dog!” It barely registered when my mom, trying to suppress a smile, stated matter-of-factly, “That’s your dog.” We were climbing out of the car then, running toward the puppy. Before long, I was holding the little three-pound Yorkshire terrier as he nipped at my nose and licked my cheek. It felt like heaven.
I still didn’t understand. There’s no way Dad would let us take this little guy home, I thought. He was the reason I still didn’t have my puppy, my mom would always say. She and I would dream together, sometimes, scouring the newspaper ads for puppies for sale. We would talk about the different type of dogs we’d want to have and come up with names for our “dream dogs.” Mom would often tell me about her childhood dog, a Sheltie named Corky. I could tell she longed for a puppy as much as I did.
As the day went on, I discovered more and more details and things started falling into place. The puppy was bred by mom’s brother Uncle Bud’s two yorkies. My parents had been in touch with Uncle Bud for several months. That explained the frequent phone calls back and forth between Dad and Uncle Bud over the last several months. My parents had told Uncle Bud to pick out the runt to be theirs and to call him “Preston.” Preston was the name of the small town in Washington State where the four of us kids were born, a town dear to my parents’ heart. It turned out that the runt outgrew another puppy, Uncle Bud named “Hercules.” Uncle Bud got mixed up and began calling Hercules “Preston.” He discovered his mistake and told my parents. They decided it didn’t really matter, so the new runt became “Preston Hercules Bettger,” our dog.
When we walked into our house back in Wisconsin later that day, I still felt like I was living in a cloud. I carried little Preston up the stairs (he was too little and uncoordinated to climb them) and set him down on the carpet where he immediately began scouring his new territory. Entering the kitchen, I now saw why my parents had been late getting in the car that morning, exiting the house with masked grins and jovial moods. On the kitchen table lay a dog bowl, treats, a few colorful toys, and a books on how to train Yorkie puppies. On the floor sat a bag of puppy food, a comfortable looking dog bed and a tiny kennel. I imagined my mom, in her creative, fun nature, laying everything out, the way a chef might lay out a creative, colorful gourmet meal. The reality that I had a dog was beginning to set in.
I don’t remember much, except for pure joy. I must have hugged my parents again and again and thanked them profusely. My mom said, “It was your dad. He finally gave in.” To this day, I don’t really know how my mom talked him into it.
Life with Preston was like adding a never-before-seen color to my life. I didn’t realize how much fun and adventure a four-legged creature could bring to my life. I had always wanted a dog, but it seemed like a far off dream the older I got. I was head over heals in love with our puppy. My parents and brothers loved him too, but I began to think Preston and I shared a special bond. I found myself thinking about him all the time when I was at work or at some church event. I couldn’t wait to see his little wiggly body and feel his soft kisses on my nose. When school started in the fall, Preston was what I looked forward to most throughout the day.
Preston was my link to home and childhood, to silliness, to playfulness. To not wanting the world to change. He helped me stay sane because, with this little creature, I could tune out all my worries. I could focus on his cuteness, his beady eyes, the silky hair that fell over one ear and eye, the other ear perked up, how his little back half moved with excitement when you walked in the door. The look and feel of his impossibly silky metallic and mahogany fur. How it felt to have him jump up and try to lick/bite my nose. How his warm four-pound body felt cuddled on my lap. How it felt to take him on a walk and have strangers or neighbors comment on his cuteness.